For a film about inspiring revolutionary fervor, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 is grim. Picking up where the Catching Fire left off, it opens in a tight shot on Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) as she suffers a panic attack, and its spirits only go down from there. Hidden underground in District 13, Katniss and a team of grim-face, jumpsuit clad workers (led by Julianne Moore’s President Coin) begin the work of selling a rebellion to the rest of the country. Freedom from the Capitol is the goal, but Katniss mostly seems focused on surviving the day.
Mockingjay does not pull any punches. Catching Fire featured a scene that, at the time, I described as brutal for a young adult franchise: the camera focused on a gun levelled at an elderly man’s head, and only cut after we heard the gunshot. That relative lack of ambiguity looks tame next to Mockingjay’s depictions of destruction. When Katniss visits a ruined District 12 early on, she makes the horrifying discovery that she’s been stepping on skulls. Other films ostensibly aimed at young audiences might let that moment imply the rest of the film’s violence, but Mockingjay’s audience is not spared from seeing what is left of the rest of District 12’s burned victims.
In short, Mockingjay is relentless. It’s also surprisingly moving. Anchored by exceptional performances from Lawrence and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, it’s thrilling to watch the rebellion that the previous volumes have been building toward begin to unfold.
Mockingjay screenwriter Peter Craig (The Town) wisely expands the film’s scope beyond Katniss’s point of view, showing us the people she has inspired, rather than simply relaying their victories. After her first propaganda video (which winkingly ends on the same four-note whistle as the Hunger Games trailers) airs in the districts, the uprisings begin. District 7 lumberjacks repeat Katniss’s lines before setting off their bombs. After she sings a folk song in District 12, it’s embraced as an anthem by rebels sacrificing themselves in District 5.
Dividing up the final volume of franchises now seems to be the rule rather than the exception, and it’s clear that there’s not any artistic motivation behind Mockingjay’s split. That said, the film cuts as cleanly as it can, focusing on the build up of Katniss as a revolutionary symbol before the next volume presumably dives into the war she’s inspired. But it’s a tough decision to end the film where it does: there’s been a lot of very painful buildup, and the payoff won’t be coming for another year.
The split weakens the film, but it’s still a strong entry in the franchise. Mockingjay is not a tight, action-heavy war film, but it is a superb portrait of what sacrifices are necessary to start a revolution.
Featured image courtesy of Lionsgate.