Movie Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

I didn't make it to see this movie in the theaters, not just because of holiday chaos or a sick movie buddy, but because the previous film in the series, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,  left me feeling unsettled from a critical and feminist point of view. That's not to say I thought Catching Fire was bad. It was an interesting and enjoyable movie, and I particularly liked the new characters it introduced, such as Johanna (I'm a sucker for a sassy J. Mason). 

No, what bothered me was that the whole film seemed to be about everyone, good and bad, systematically stripping Katniss Everdeen of her person-hood and agency for their own gains. It's understandable at first that the Capitol wants to control a threat, or her family wants to help her make decisions she is too traumatized to consider, but it's a theme that grew and grew. When Cinna places Katniss in the Mockingjay dress, commandeering her bodily as a symbol without her consent, it's a microcosm of what happens to her throughout the film.  At then end of the film we see Katniss surrounded by men who have completely taken away in choice regarding her own rescue and place in the revolution. It's creepy.

Mockingjay: Part 1 thankfully addresses this issue head on. The whole film is about the consequences of manipulation and the ramifications of giving people control very their own lives.

The story both allows Katniss to become a person again and subtly critiques those that would make her just a symbol. The very first scene of the fill is a perfect metaphor for where Katniss is. We open on a traumatized, frightened girl clinging to her identity trying to find some peace who is bodily taken and placed where those in power want her. These people are not the Capitol however, and the film doesn't shy away from asking what the difference is between the two sides of power.

Katniss is reluctant to be used as the symbol of the rebellion, but she nonetheless chooses that role, after being shown the burnt ruins of District 12. She's emotionally manipulated into doing what the rebels needs, and in turn she is used as propaganda to manipulate the masses. The way Katniss is used, is not a far cry from how she was used in the Hunger Games themselves, except this time she has slightly more control and choice. Still, suffering is turned into a glossy, well-packaged story controlled by the very same people - like Heavensbee and Effie - that represent everything shallow and callous about the capitol. All of this done, just as the Hunger Games were, in the name of peace or demoracy.

What's done to Katniss is mirrored by the way Peeta is manipulated and used. He too is controlled through his emotions and used  to manipulate the populace in turn. The only thing that seems to separate the rebels and the Capitol is how far they are willing to go in their methods. What Peeta endures is horrendous compared to Katniss, and the Capitol commits far more atrocities than the rebels. But Katniss and Peeta are indeed identical weapons pointed at one another, their own wills removed (with varying degrees of success), used to remove the will of others. The irony is only that the rebels claim to be different from the Capitol, and though President Coin and others are more compassionate,  they are just as willing to tell the right story to make people do what they feel is right.

This is where the whole experience of watching The Hunger Games series gets very meta. It's a story about stories, and their power to control. The story asks us what the difference is between inspiration and manipulation. And this is simultaneously done while we, as an audience, agree to the emotional manipulation intrinsic in any media experience. The focus by the media around this series on the violence and the love stories is incredibly ironic, because the 'point' is that it's not about the violence or love story, but about the power of stories themselves.

Stepping back from meta land, I enjoyed the movie as a movie just as much as a thought-provoking study in media.

The cast is incredible and I love the intensity that goddesses in human form Natalie Dormer and Julianne Moore and the ever-fascinating Jeffry Wright bring to their roles. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is wonderfully smarmy, frightened and nonchalant in what turned out to be one of his last roles. Donald Sutherland is a perfect study in villainy, and Jennifer Lawrence continues to prove why she earned an Oscar in her twenties. I loved Finnick, but I feel like he was underused and wish we had time to see more of him and Katniss commiserating, just as I wish we had been show more of the effect of the dueling propaganda machines on the regular people as it happened, rather than just the actions of the rebels afterward. The world building in the series continues to be excellent, though I do wish there was even more to see.

In all, I would say this was the most satisfying entry in the series so far, which is funny since we end on a series of cliff hangers. I definitely won't be waiting until the DVD release to see Part 2.