The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

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Mockingjay wonderfully portrays Katniss Everdeen’s psychological and emotional struggle with herself and her role in society. Both the opening and ending moments of the film depict Katniss in a distressed state, yet the manner of this distress changes greatly between shots. Katniss gains confidence in the war and the symbolic Mockingjay but loses faith in herself, learning to please the public but failing to protect those she loves. Peeta causes this transformation because of his own decomposition, making his incomplete story arc disappointing. While the movie provides a great look at Katniss, the ending disrupts the stories of Peeta and the war, producing a mediocre ending in an otherwise great movie.

Jennifer Lawrence’s outstanding performance beautifully shapes a movie which revolves around Katniss’s growth into the Mockingjay. Clips of the revolution are included, but these serve as an example of Katniss’s influence rather than a source of fun action. I appreciated the film’s lack of action; by focusing on the psychological consequences of war rather than war itself, Mockingjay provides the excellent character development which shaped the book.

Mockingjay utilizes visuals well to illustrate the psychological tone of the movie. Katniss’s unstable face bursts onto the screen in the opening shot, acting as the first of many close-ups used throughout the film. Much of the movie takes place in District 13, an underground military base designed for efficiency. District 13 is first seen from an elevator, constraining and limiting visuals in both the elevator and the following shot: Mockingjay 1

Even when Katniss exits the elevator, District 13 feels small. The camera pans upward to show a cylindrical container with round edges and dull colors (a great shot which is unfortunately unavailable on the Internet), emphasizing District 13 is built for survival, unlike the decorative buildings of the Capitol. The later scene of the air raid similarly views the internal base from above and then below:

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This staircase contrasts well with the earlier shots of District 13, replacing the boring, smooth cylinder with a jagged, triangular shape, flashing lights, and massive movement to intensify the life-threatening air raid.

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By crowding the staircase with hundreds of people and limiting camera movement to the vertical axis, the air raid highlights the restrictive qualities of District 13. Much of the movie occurs within District 13, particularly in the noisy cafeteria, the crowded Collective (where Coin makes her public announcements), and the cramped meeting room for the revolutionary leaders. Reused sets, small rooms, and close-ups establish a claustrophobic mood and assist in the movie’s focus on characters rather than the war.

The general avoidance of battle distinguishes Mockingjay from its predecessors, replacing the unique combat in the Hunger Games with psychological conflict. Although they might expect to see more CGI-powered action in a war, viewers should remember that the combat and futuristic aesthetics of the past two films stemmed from the Hunger Games. While characters faced starvation and emotional struggles in District 12, the Hunger Games produced action to satisfy the upper class’s selfish, narrow-minded, oppressive desire for cinematic death and romance. Mockingjay wisely sacrifices the actions and aesthetics of Hunger Games and Catching Fire, moving from the privileged upper class to the struggling lower class and from artificial conflict to individual struggles.

Because of the distinction between District 13 and the Capitol, the similar use of propaganda for and against both sides is fascinating. The rebels infiltrate the Capitol’s defense system in order to show videos of Katniss and Finnick, and the Capitol broadcasts clips of Peeta and Snow. Propaganda fuels both courage and fear as each side utilizes inspiration, sorrow, and threats to win the war.

The song “The Hanging Tree” wonderfully illustrates the persuasive power of propaganda. I was generally unimpressed by the music of Mockingjay, particularly during the introduction. Much of the introductory music relies on prequels; the great songs from the previous films lose effectiveness in the scenes of Mockingjay. While I can appreciate music used to connect a series, the scenes and reused music in Mockingjay did not align particularly well. “The Hanging Tree,” however, is a brilliant song. Intensity builds through both visuals and audio: main characters become increasingly grim and rebels break into battle while voices and instruments join the fray. The backup chorus penetrates the silent fog, peaking tension and establishing the rebels’ power before they burst through the fog.

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The transformation from Katniss’s voice into a chorus shows entire populations seeing, copying, and dying for the Mockingjay. Throughout Mockingjay, districts join the war and sacrifice themselves, illustrating the frightening influence of propaganda; “The Hanging Tree” successfully combines content and music to convey this message.

Showing the propaganda of both sides advances the theme of questionable war in Mockingjay. Peeta serves as “the Capitol’s weapon” against both the revolution and the audience, forcing us to challenge the purpose of this war. Both Katniss and Peeta cry because of death yet react oppositely, with Katniss taking up arms and Peeta trying to stop her. While this should tear viewers between peace and war, the focus on Katniss and the negative association with Snow hinder the theme of ambiguous righteousness. By presenting Snow as ruthlessly evil and suggesting Peeta has been tortured into submission, Mockingjay fails to instill doubt within Katniss and the audience as thoroughly as it should. Based on the contents of the book, I suspect Katniss will spend more time questioning the war and President Coin in Part 2. Still, it’s sad that Katniss only doubts herself when Mockingjay provides ample opportunity to instead question the war she’s fighting for.

As with its theme of ambiguity, Mockingjay fails to fully develop Peeta’s story arc. Seeing Peeta suffer frightens Katniss into avoiding propaganda videos, for she realizes Peeta will die as long as the Mockingjay lives. Katniss overcomes this fear by addressing Snow, thus sacrificing her happiness for the revolution. Although she protects the team rescuing Peeta, Katniss develops because she accepts her part as a television-produced symbol and actively chooses to be the Mockingjay (when she was previously manipulated into this role). Peeta, on the other hand, lacks resolution due to absence of choice. The final shot shows the peak of his suffering without any visible hint of recovery. Katniss and Peeta each function as a weapon, but only Katniss chooses this position.

Although Peeta’s story remains unsatisfyingly incomplete, his psychological descent is brilliant. Peeta deteriorates in well-paced increments, establishing a feeling of helplessness and inevitability that intensifies Katniss’s struggle to save him. Visuals assist in illustrating Peeta’s change, introducing a calm, stable Peeta with the outfit he wore during his second Hunger Games:

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Although Peeta emotionally worsens, he remains well-dressed. Unchanging clothes contrast his psychological and physical decomposition: in Peeta’s final video, smooth clothing disguises his body and emphasizes his disheveled, thin face.

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The frightening deterioration of Peeta, Katniss’s thoroughly developed internal conflict, and overall great acting keep Mockingjay entertaining until its disappointing end. Incomplete story arcs make the ending seem abrupt—which, despite some popular belief, can be avoided despite the “Part 1” looming in the title. Splitting the third book into two parts simply produces a four-movie series: there is no reason this movie should not possess a story independent of the larger story encompassing the series. The previous two films each tell the tale of a Hunger Games competition. Each builds toward a game and provides it, leaving a cliffhanger for the next film while also producing a satisfying conclusion. Mockingjay’s cliffhanger, however, is only half-successful: while Katniss (and other characters, particularly Gale) develop well, Peeta lacks resolution, and the war experiences an awkward pause.

Lengthening the film in order to further develop Peeta would likely benefit the entire movie. In a revised, longer version, Peeta would become aware of his hijacked state and decide to join the revolution despite his doubts, giving him a resolving choice. By allying with District 13, Peeta would overcome his role as a weapon in Part 1 and come to terms with his mutilated memories in Part 2. This alliance would additionally provide a perfect transition between stages of the war. Part 1 would show a battle of propagandistic influence, which District 13 would win by converting Peeta to their cause. With the conflict between Peeta and the Mockingjay completed, District 13 would enter Part 2 with strengthened confidence and focus on conquering Snow rather than both Snow and Peeta. The conflict between Katniss and Peeta would develop and end in Part 1, transitioning to a struggle which the two face together. Much of Katniss’s struggle in Part 1 stems from Peeta: having both overcome doubts and join the rebellion would lead perfectly into a united war against the Capitol.

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