Young Adult fiction has seen a growing trend of dramatic and strange dystopias. “Divergent,” “The Maze Runner,” “The Hunger Games” — each of these has chosen to adopt a consistent degree of realness. “The Hunger Games” changed its choice in its most recent installment, opting to take the story several notches chillier.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1
But “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1” is riddled with problems. Young Adult fiction has a shaky precedent for the degree of darkness that “Mockingjay — Part 1” strives for. In previous films, the audience was exposed to children murdering each other, but those films didn’t put war and personal violence and PTSD onscreen for two straight hours. The dramatic portrayal of pain was too much. There was a need for relief, and the movie didn’t deliver. It left the audience with weird feelings.
Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence, “Silver Linings Playbook”) was rescued from the oversight of The Capitol at the end of “Catching Fire,” and in this movie, Lawrence plays an emotionally broken 17-year-old girl forced to present herself as the living symbol of a violent revolution. Most of the film is dedicated to documenting her character development as she’s huddled in a bunker with the resistance, the rebel faction, District 13. The only games in this movie are horrible mind-games.
“Mockingjay — Part 1” consistently commits to its sadnesses and angers, at times losing touch with how sadness and anger exist in reality, and at other times, striking those notes with killing precision. Different actors handle the pressure of the portrayal of angst with vastly differing levels of success. Lawrence does not fit the role of Katniss in this movie. When she puts her hand to her mouth to show shock, it feels like there’s a director behind the camera telling her to do just that. This movie tries to transform her pain into a dramatic event, and the choices it makes in that effort are questionable. After a beautiful scene with a cat and a flashlight, Katniss flat-out explains the resonance of the scene to Finnick — exposition for the children in the audience. Much of the script is conspicuously Y.A. The film captures an awesome darkness, which young adults can handle, but the Cold War realism is diluted by overkill escorting-scenes to ensure the level of darkness is acknowledged.
Peeta (Josh Hutcherson, “Bridge to Terabithia”) handles the portrayal of his PTSD with greater grace than Katniss. His hauntedness succeeds where Katniss’s waterworks fail. The interview format of his presentation in “Mockingjay — Part 1” gives Peeta a believable platform from which to deliver his wooden lines, whereas Katniss expresses herself strangely in context. When she’s speaking into the camera from the desolated District 12 (her former home), she vents about what the resistance “must” do. Real 17-year-olds experiencing fits of emotion, especially those who grew up in starving poverty, don’t say “we must,” they say “we have to,” and it’s these small dramatic exaggerations that cripple this film.
When Gale (Liam Hemsworth, “Paranoia”) talks about how he and Katniss kissed, Katniss responds, “I didn’t think you remembered that.” This is another exaggerated PTSD moment. Who expects their best and only friend to forget their kiss? Many more things were unbelievable: the bombed bodies with the unbroken skeletons; the stricken villagers in District 8 who ask Katniss the perfect questions for a propaganda reel, the rain propagating through the underground bunker in 13.
There’s a scene in the bunker when the doors are about to lock, where Prim and Katniss practically mosey down that staircase; it’s laughable. Her life is on the line, and she’s taking the stairs one at a time. Real people don’t take the stairs one at a time under threat of death.
The real stars are Finnick (Sam Claflin, “Snow White and the Huntsman”) and Haymitch (Woody Harrelson, “True Detective”). Finnick’s pain is probably the most authentic among the traumatized Victors, and his kiss with Annie is the singular highest romantic achievement of the entire franchise to date. On another positive note, the way Haymitch’s status as a recovering addict is incorporated into his character represents a rare note of thoughtful writing, and endears him to the audience as a known and dependable entity in circumstances of chaos. Even when the world is burning, you can count on Haymitch to be trying to score some drugs from a traumatized 17-year-old.
The cold compulsion of this film was expected as soon as “Part 1” was announced as an element of the title. “The Hunger Games” is doing what “The Hobbit” did, and it’s working about as well. “Mockingjay — Part 1” did less well this weekend than either “The Hunger Games” or “Catching Fire” did, and deservedly so. It has the words “Part 1” to thank for that. However, it manages to leave viewer on a powerful cliffhanger.
At the end, the audience is genuinely concerned for Peeta’s wellbeing, then Lorde’s “Yellow Flicker Beat” plays, and we feel it. “Yellow Flicker Beat” is a beautiful anthem for the credits roll along to. The credits (which pay tribute to the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, who plays the ethically iffy Plutarch) are almost a dirge. “Yellow Flicker Beat,” in its affective power, is reminiscent of “Into The West,” the credit roll track for “The Return of the King.” In both cases, a contralto epilogue for heartbreak, but in the case of “Mockingjay — Part 1,” it’s a 17-year-old singing. Very appropriate.
The credit — and Finnick’s kiss — were the only bullseyes of this movie. The film was dramatic Absolute Zero. It wasn’t completely wrong, but it wasn’t what we came to see.