THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY - PART 1. Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Donald Sutherland. Directed by Francis Lawrence. Rated M (Mature themes and violence). 123 min.
The "Hunger Games" is a cruel and sadistic television show in which teenagers from a future America compete against one another in a fight to the death. This American science-fiction-adventure movie is the fourth film in The Hunger Games series that is based on the books of Suzanne Collins. It is the first part of "Mockingjay", the final book in The Hunger Games trilogy, and is the sequel to the film, "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire".
Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) survives as the victor of the 74th. Hunger Games, and the nation of Panem has been stirred by her courage. Against all expectation, she overcame the perils of the Third Quarter Quell in The Hunger Games to become the people's heroine and symbol of hope. Katniss ended the Games by firing an arrow into the Games' force field, shattering it to pieces. District 12 was reduced to smoking rubble, and she wakes up beneath District 13 that is thought to be destroyed. In District 13, Katniss is the "Mockingjay", the symbol of hope and rebellion for the people. Agitated, soulful, angry and depressed she is aware of the pressures on her to be the figure-head for the revolution, but is shaped by others to meet them.
The commander of the rebellion in District 13 is President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore), who is assisted by a warmer and kinder-hearted Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman). This film is the last one before Hoffman's death in 2014 (but Moore stays on in Part 2). Plutarch's job is to create propaganda videos starring Katniss that are released to the people. Katniss, however, is not well suited to being good marketing material. She arouses passion much better when she is engaged in actual combat.
Katniss' best friend in the last film, Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth), is a soldier in this one fighting by her side, and Katniss fights to save Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), joint victor of the 74th. Games, who was captured at the end of the last film. In this film, he is brainwashed and tortured by the Capitol under the sadistic command of President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Hemsworh and Hutcherson act as rivals for her affection.
The politics of Mockingjay replace the action of the Hunger Games of the earlier films, and the tensions of political turmoil are everywhere. The plot-line has strong characters inhabiting it, and the movie is directed well by Francis Lawrence. Its narrative strength, however, is weak overall. The Hunger Games are in people's memories, and this film deals with the consequences of them as a dark adventure tale.
The film offers particularly interesting commentary on the ethical ambiguities associated with war, and war propaganda. Peeta is forced to speak against Katniss and is used by President Snow as an unwilling spokesperson for the Capitol. There are also ethical problems on the other side. While war is raging and people are dying, it is unsettling to see the rebel leaders in District 13 worry more about what makes the best media display for their cause, than about how many people they can save. The movie engenders critical thought about the nature of war and its consequences, and the screen imagery looks disturbingly relevant to how the media plays its spin in modern times. However, it continues the series' overall theme of recovery from injustice.
In many respects, the Hunger series fills a gap that is left to fill following the end of the Harry Potter series. This film travels the same path that Harry Potter did in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1" (2010). Things get darker as the series progresses and one looks to Part 2 for some kind of emotional respite and resolution.
The film as a whole is caught between grim realism and teenage fanciful appeal, and hopefully, Part 2 will relieve some of its despair.
Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting
Released November 20th., 2014