Written by: Danny Strong & Peter Craig
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks
Propaganda, when done successfully, can be as useful in war as the actual battles because of what it can convey to those watching it. A battle in communication because the masses it hopes to reach always outnumber the soldiers of each side and could make the difference in the long run. This idea dominates the plot of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 as it slows down on the action side to really work through what the Mockingjay represents and does so with great impact.
Now in District 13 as part of the rebellion, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) has learned about the impact she has as a symbol for the resistance against the capital. Under the tutelage of President Coin (Julianne Moore) and Plutarch (Philip Seymour Hoffman), she begins filming propaganda videos to encourage people in all districts to rise up. This gets counterbalanced by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), who under the control of the capital, carries the opposite messaging in the battle of the words.
As mentioned in regard to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1, doing a “Part 1” of a finale has its struggles because it runs into the trap of not being a complete feature film itself and just being a movie to set up the finale. However, what this film does as compared to the one with the wizards comes from its dramatically different approach as compared to the other films in the series with its messaging. In this feature, there are no Hunger Games to be played as war has begun and everything comes down to the messaging people receive. With the capital and President Snow (Donald Sutherland) controlling so much of what the common citizen learns and knows, it takes plenty to break it down for the people to risk their lives to fight in this war. However, people believe in the Mockingjay that Katniss represents, which makes her the most dangerous weapon to Snow and explains why Peeta has to suffer as a result on the other side of the spectrum.
Now, taking on this approach as a buildup to the finale might not work for everyone because what they enjoy the most about these movies comes from the action. An understandable point in a sense, but the most fascinating aspect of these films, for me, has always been the political movements and chess pieces being played by those at the top and bottom to move things closer to battle. Everything happening in the Hunger Games themselves carries value as the big television show can sway people but with everyone on high alert, this film really digs into hope versus fear. The smallest spark can make the difference and President Snow knows the longer Katniss stays alive the larger the flame will get leading up to people knocking on the door of the capital. Still feels like an appetizer overall but one that suppresses the quality of the actual main dish.
As bleak as the other films got, at times, this feature really gets down with the sadness in seeing the atrocities the capital and President Snow are willing to undergo in order to maintain their power amongst the districts. This comes with the near obliteration of Katniss’s district, 12, and the scene where she makes her way back there is simply heartbreaking in showing the complete lack of humanity in these attacks. Wreckage is left by the remains of innocent adults and children alike but in the heat of war, they serve as necessary casualties in the eyes of the capital in order to make a harrowing message. However, the rebellion has a face in Katniss and it lives with the introduction of another important character.
With the previous two films feeling very personal as Katniss feels like fighting the capital on her own feels futile, this movie introduces the large rebellion waiting in the background to pounce when given the opportunity. It has arrived and a counter to President Snow appears in Coin portrayed sympathetically by Julianne Moore. This character could be fairly straightforward as the good president as opposed to the one threatening the lives of Katniss’s family, but this series makes quite the intriguing turn with her as well as Snow as to what they represent. This obviously receives more execution in the finale, but Katniss’s thoughts of not falling completely in line with everything Coin says may be for the best. Moore steps into this franchise and gives a strong performance in feeling very human but acting like a war general who can communicate well to her troops and utilize people for the good of the rebellion. Just as much the manipulator as Snow, but for the good, at least we’re led to believe.
While perhaps not being everyone’s cup of tea, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 came as a pleasant surprise. It slows down the series to demonstrate the importance of communication with people in a meaningful manner. It serves as the calm before the storm and makes the small moments easy to latch onto and really follow. Pushing completely in the direction of the importance of symbolism, even if a bit fabricated, adds an extra layer to this ongoing war. After all with propaganda, the most important aspect comes from reaching the masses and convincing them of the message, with truth serving as a secondary concern.