“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part I” is an unwieldy title, and in some ways the film itself is a bit unwieldy. For instance, this film is not in any way, shape, or form a complete movie. Yes, the novel in which it is based has been split into two films, largely to double the profits of the studio. Odd, considering how Marxist the books are, but I’ll touch on that in a bit. Still, unlike “Kill Bill”, which was filmed as one movie but split into two because of a long running time, “Mockingjay” suffers from feeling like a two-hour-long Act I and not like a film in and of itself that happens to end on a cliffhanger. Which isn’t to say the film is bad, because it is not. Since the first “Hunger Games” felt rushed through, I enjoyed this film allowing itself to breathe and meander a bit so that the themes of the story and the emotions and mindsets of the characters get a tad more focus. The issue is more that the film lacks a structure (it tries to make a hostage rescue its climax, but it feels like an “end of Act I” plot point instead), doesn’t offer enough action scenes for the crowd that is looking for a blockbuster, and is a rather somber affair overall.
While the YA books in the “His Dark Materials” series, including “The Golden Compass”, riled up Conservatives for being Atheist propaganda, it has surprised me that “The Hunger Games” series hasn’t riled them up for so obviously being Marxist propaganda aimed at teenagers. When you have districts of poor, working class folks each tasked with producing a single, major good for the benefit of their rich overlords elsewhere, and who are forced into sectarian violence against one another on an annual basis, with your villains referred to as “The Capitol” (very close to The Capital, with an A, or Das Kapital, with a K), and your story is about a grassroots proletarian revolution against this Capitol…well, it’s amazing people didn’t see this more clearly. People starve and use their labor power to enhance the lives of the Bourgeoisie who dress in tacky clothes, enjoy immoral reality television, and eat so much they vomit so that they may continue eating. Not to mention how many of the poorer districts’ citizens are either minorities or have a stereotypical blue collar look, right down to the 1984 proles jumpsuits. It is supremely odd that blatantly Marxist literature has spawned a multi-million dollar film franchise and has captured the hearts of teenage girls around the world. It is even more odd that hardly anyone has realized how up-front the books’, and to a lesser extent the films’ ideology truly is. Entertainment Weekly did refer to the ideology by writing “Mockingjay may be the most harmlessly Marxist movie to come out of Hollywood since Reds”, and comparing Katniss to a Che Guevara T-shirt, but otherwise it’s been largely ignored.
The first two films in the series did glaze over some of this a bit in their rush to showcase PG-13 action (these films probably should have been made R, but that would have kept out a bulk of the fanbase) and a love triangle. Instead, they seemed content with just showing us generic dystopian imagery; a bit of “1984”, a dash of “Logan’s Run”, a hint of “Soylent Green”, etc. Because “Mockingjay” has so much more running time to show its story, this film is the most politically minded of the film versions. We have Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) being used as a propaganda tool for the revolutionaries, who at one point try to make a bad commercial wherein Katniss stands before a digital background waving a red flag, ala “Les Miserables” or any red flag-accompanying Socialist uprising from the 20th century. Yes, there is the commentary of both the good and the bad guys using manipulation of news and media imagery to further an agenda (a bit of false equivalency here, like in comparing Fox News to MSNBC, but whatever). We also get a new character by way of Julianne Moore’s President Alma Coin of District 13. Coin raises her fist to punctuate banal political speeches, and overall comes across as a power-hungry politician pretending to be the friend and leader of the proletariat (think Stalin giving lip service to Marxism while just ending up another Fascist thug). District 13 is an underground bunker housing the headquarters for the revolution, and the shabby concrete setting houses the bulk of the film and encapsulates the near entirety of the film’s washed-out and drab color palate. The glittery gaudiness of the Capitol in the first film is nary seen here. “Mockingjay” would rather look more like the black-and-white films of people waiting in bread lines in the former Soviet Union.
The film largely follows Katniss as she visits mass graves; worries about her sister (Willow Shields) and her captured love interest, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson); and works with those in power, including Coin and Plutarch (the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, who doesn’t sleepwalk through his performance like he did in “Catching Fire”) as they use Katniss as their mascot while nameless revolutionaries in other districts launch guerilla warfare against faceless, white-armored, Orwellian-named Peacekeepers, who in turn mow down a lot of these poor people in PG-13 bloodless gunfire. There is perhaps something to be said about the film focusing on the people pulling strings behind the scenes while the actual fighters are delegated to the roles of mere extras and action cutaways, and having read the novel I know that…
…President Coin will turn out to be no better than the vile dictator she is opposing (like how Lenin became a dictator after deposing Czar Nicholas II even though he seemed to be fighting for the working class). The film is clearly setting up to showcase the power corrupts and one-side-is-just-as-bad-as-the-other messages. I guess “Mockingjay” is more of the Trotskyite of Permanent Revolution, and Coin would be a counterrevolutionary working for her own means and not for the workers who chant the fight song at her speeches.
I will say that “Mockingjay” is well-acted and entertaining throughout, and is never boring even if it is the least action-heavy, slowest, and driest film of the series thus far. It never feels like a movie, but rather the set up for a better film to be released next year, and leaves you with a sense of dissatisfaction, even if the film feels as if it is “better” than the previous two films. Certainly this film comes the closest to capturing the source novel. Director Francis Lawrence, whose previous films include the visually interesting but screenplay-weak “Constantine”, and the good-until-it-falls-apart-in-the-third-act “I Am Legend” (I didn’t see “Water for Elephants”), directs with a sure hand and a consistent visual style and color palette which heightens the film past its dry moments. Honestly, though, this film succeeds on the merits and watchability of Jennifer Lawrence. This whole thing collapses if she doesn’t bring her game. While the film has perhaps too many close-ups of her silently looking worried, and in some scenes you can sense her thinking she can’t wait to do a more prestigious film now that “X-Men” and this are out of the way, she is the nucleus holding this atom together, and she does so with flying colors.
For whatever its flaws, the film does what it needs to do, which is entertain you, present the major themes, and get you geared up for part II. B.