I turned up to watch the Mockingjay: Part 1 film today, its official day of release, without any prep. I’d like to say that’s because I deliberately withheld re-reading the book or reading advance film reviews, but the reason is much more pedestrian: I’ve been so otherwise occupied with speedbumps I’ve hit in life that I almost forgot today was the day the film was coming out.
I even turned up to the cinema two minutes after the start time and breathlessly asked the attendant if I could: a) still go in; and b) go to the bathroom first. She assured me yes on both counts: there were some 20 minutes of ads before the film itself began (that’s probably the first and only time I’ll be happy to hear that).
Consequently, I was hazy on the plot points that would be contained within this film, and even hazier as I knew this would be the first of two films. That’s because the final book in the trilogy was deemed too big to fit into one (plus I’m guessing Hollywood saw an opportunity to force us besotted, addicted fans to fork out moar money for moar moofie tix).
In Mockingjay: Part 1, Katniss and Finnick are struggling. The first scene picks up with them having tormented nightmares from which they seem unable to wake even when they’re awake.
Katniss and co. are hunkered down underground in semi safety in District 13. District 12, their home, has been bombed to oblivion, with few survivors. Outside, the rebellion against the Capitol is well under way. Peeta and Annie are still captive in the Capitol, with Peeta trotted out as a kind of golden-child propaganda.
The rebellion needs Katniss to go on camera to create some pro-rebellion mockingjay propaganda, but she’s so traumatised by all she’s experienced and so pre-occupied by the thought of needing to rescue Peeta that she wants nothing to do with it. Both Katniss and Finnick wish they were dead.
This film, like the book, kicks the tale up a notch of seriousness, with propaganda—storytelling, controlling messages, reframing stories in order to invoke emotion, allegiance, and a taking up of arms—central to its adrenalin- and emotion-wringing success.
It’s tense and oppressive. We see and feel it from the expressions on the characters’ faces and the enclosed, concrete bunker-like accommodation they’re cooped up in. The stellar cast that includes Woody Harrelson, Julianne Moore, and Donald Sutherland is also up to the challenging of conveying all these senses and issues and emotions (unlike, cough, the cast of such films as Twilight).
As a side note, I felt all the feelings when Philip Seymour Hoffman was on screen. My general lack of preparation meant I was especially less prepared to see him than I would otherwise have been, and he appears early in the film and pops in regularly throughout. He is magnificent, bringing depth and warmth and humour to a character that was for me rather two-dimensional in the books. The film’s final credits include a dedication to him, which he richly deserves.
Likewise, Woody Harrelson reprising Haymitch and Elizabeth Banks reprising Effie Trinkett bring new gravity to their characters. Neither can rely on the over-the-top acting options they had in the previous films, as in Mockingjay the usually sauced Haymitch is sober and the usually flamboyantly attired Trinkett is forced to wear the same androgynous, definitively unfashionable khaki garb as everyone else. Yet through muted performances, both actors managed to convey key information and humanise and endear us to their characters more than ever.
While this film is somber-er than the previous films (not that I’d ever call them ‘light’), there are some well-timed moments of wit. One moment includes a condition Katniss issues for agreeing to being the mockingjay propaganda lackey: her sister ‘gets to keep her cat’ (pets are forbidden in the largely militarised zone). Another includes the muttered ‘We interrupt your regularly scheduled horse manure’ as the rebels temporarily take over the Capitol’s broadcast. Yet another is Haymitch saying he ‘can never fully support the woman [President Coin, the District 13 leader] in light of the prohibition’ she has in place.
I can’t tell you where they split the book/films in two, but I can tell you I’d forgotten all about the moment so was suitably surprised when it happened. Now I commence the long wait until Part 2 comes out and wraps up the trilogy altogether. I imagine I’ll feel all the feelings when that occurs, albeit for entirely different, please-don’t-let-it-end reasons…