Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1
Christian Movie Review
After seeing and reviewing Catching Fire last year, I became hooked on The Hunger Games, and I’ve been counting down the weeks to Mockingjay, Part 1.
The story picks up after the destruction of the games. In an act of vengeance, the government destroys District 12 — Katniss’s home. After her homeland and her beloved people are wiped out, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) flees to District 13 where she meets President Coin who convinces her to become the symbol of rebellion against the Capitol.
Critics aren’t as hot for Mockingjay, Part 1 (69% on RottenTomatoes) as they were for Catching Fire (89%), though we’ll see if that number goes up or down as the weekend progresses.
Below the parental guidance issues I’ll give my take on why the critics are a little down on Mockingjay, and I’ll explain why I think they’re wrong.
Oh and one more thing. The Mockingjay and its three-finger salute have begun inspiring real revolutions against real tyrannies here in the real world. As crazy as it sounds, The Hunger Games movies — specifically the Mockingjay persona — have become symbols of hope in other countries that have oppressive governments.
I’ll give you the detailed scoop on that in a moment, but first let’s look at the film.
Parental Guidance Issues at a Glance…
Sexual Content/Nudity: None.
Violence/Gore: Military-style violence: a lot of people get mowed down by machine guns — but no detailed gore. One scene shows a make-shift battle zone hospital full of the wounded. You see a lot of blood in quick impressionist-like shots, but nothing up close or terribly graphic. Another scene shows a large pile of dead bodies (that are now skeletons — basically a valley of charred bodies with nothing left but bones). It’s very realistic. It’s more emotionally disturbing (which is the point, in the context of the story) than graphic. It stays in the PG-13 realm. Another scene shows a hallway lined with dead bodies in body bags. Another scene shows a lab where the torture of prisoners is implied. A character looks emaciated and broken as if he had been tortured, though it’s only inferred from his appearance.
Overall this movie is not as violent or graphic as the first two movies because there are no Hunger Games in it — no scenes where children run around trying to kill each other.
Language: None. Seriously. I don’t think I heard a single swear word.
Alcohol/Drug/Smoking Content: None, really. Though — I’m not sure if this counts — but we do see a lab with vials of chemicals and weird instruments that were used to torture prisoners, so technically we see an implication of forced drug use. A character jokes about wishing he had booze.
Frightening/Intense Content: As I told my wife after the movie: “This was a very stressful movie!” Although the film lacks the amount of violence you might expect in a PG-13 movie, it seems that every moment of the film deals with a life and death situation, and the director makes the horrifying emotions palpable to the audience (as any good movie should do). The movie demands a lot from you emotionally, and some might feel (as some of the critics did) that it is excessively dreary and depressing in its tone. The film deals with some heavy issues of grief and the losing of loved ones.
(Review continues below)
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“The primary conflict in Mockingjay, Part 1 is not a physical battle to control weapons or strategic advantage as it was in the Hunger Games from the previous films. It is a battle to control Ideas — a battle for the minds of the people, for the ability to perceive absolute truth.”
Entertainment Value and Film Craft
The abrupt storyline of the film provided the primary ammunition for critics who panned Mockingjay, Part 1. They complained that it was just a long trailer for the real action: Mockingjay, Part 2.
Here’s why I disagree. If Mockingjay hadn’t been divided into two parts, the filmmakers would not have had time to explore the themes of propaganda in the brilliant ways that they did.
That’s really what makes this film exceptional: its analysis of the use of propaganda in wartime, how ideas really are the source of power in any human struggle, how disinformation is a more formidable weapon than any gun or bomb, and how honest people can be manipulated.
Sure, I get why some critics complained. The film doesn’t have much of an exposition or a resolution, certainly not a resolution — and the critics know it’s intentional. The studio has a monetary motivation to split the book and make the first part as unsatisfying a cliff-hanger as possible. I get why that annoys people. And the ending did feel abrupt and a little unsatisfying. Manipulative, even. Life was imitating art as Part 1 became propaganda to push society to go pay money to see Part 2 a year from now.
And critics hate feeling manipulated, especially when they smell a money-grab from the studio.
But despite these issues in Part 1, which I admit are there, the film does a nuanced job of getting you hooked on a different kind of story than the previous films: a thrilling struggle for control of the all-powerful Idea — in a Plato-like philosophical sense — of vision and perception that seeks to know absolute truth and expose temporal facades.
Suffice it to say that the director Francis Lawrence is a master of tension, and he makes Mockingjay, Part 1 addictive as you go from scene-to-scene, wondering breathlessly what could possibly happen next.
And the new writers — Peter Craig (The Town) and Danny Strong (Lee Daniels’ The Butler) — add a new spirit to the Hunger Games saga that, despite its flaws, is just as compelling as the first two movies, but for different reasons.
Of course, Jennifer Lawrence and the other actors were spellbinding, as usual. But this film was hard to watch because of Philip Seymour Hoffman. A phenomenal actor with rarefied talent, he died earlier this year from a drug overdose — a completely preventable death, if he had gotten the help he needed at the right time.
A haunting melancholy presided over every scene that included him. It cast a somber pall over everything — and the film already had that tone, so it was amplified.
He was such an astonishing talent. Such a waste. Such a tragedy.
I suppose someone somewhere will probably make an argument that The Hunger Games is an anti-authority, anti-adult (i.e. children are the purest stage of humanity; never trust adults) worldview — or an anarchist worldview — but that interpretation falls apart when you examine the disciplined, authority-centric structure of the rebel stronghold led entirely by adults.
Mockingjay, Part 1 is more ancient Greek than anything else; it’s a tribute to the notion of Western-style, ancient Greek-influenced democracy and the inherent rights of individuals.
In addition, Greek philosophy, especially Plato and Aristotle, explored the power of the Idea — the inherent inner perception of absolute truth by which we judge all things; though the Greeks, of course, never attributed this absolute truth to the Absolute Truth-Maker — the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob — as the Jews and Christians did.
What the Greeks understood, however, and what this film addresses using the drama between the Mockingjay and Peeta, is that a heroic person, a living symbol of some movement, can become an Idea with a capital “I” — something that has an absolute quality and size that grows larger than the person. When this happens, the Idea — in this case the Mockingjay — assumes a power of its own that exists apart from any finite human being.
In other words, the person who leads the revolution, in this case Katniss, becomes a shadow compared to the unchanging Idea — the Mockingjay — that Katniss has created in the minds of the people.
The bottom-line of this film?
The primary conflict is not a physical battle to control weapons or strategic advantage as it was in the Hunger Games from the previous films. It is a battle to control Ideas — a battle for the minds of the people, for the ability to perceive absolute truth.
And what really blows me away is that Katniss, the Mockingjay, has begun to inspire real rebels in real revolutions here in our world. The young protesters who are resisting an oppressive government in Thailand have adopted the three-fingered salute and the symbol of the Mockingjay as their rallying cry. This article at MSN.com shows a jaw-dropping photo of students lifting the Mockingjay salute high in the air as government authorities arrest them.
Here’s a thought: what if this spread? What if the Mockingjay became a symbol for protestors resisting oppressive governments all over the world? Imagine the Iranian people, for example — who have already been risking their lives in recent years to protest their tyrannical government — flashing the Mockingjay sign as their symbol of solidarity?
Talk about life imitating art. Wow.
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