It has become clear to me that I will never have a normal theater experience. Seriously, theaters hate me. When I saw Godzilla, there was no sound. When I saw The Maze Runner, there was loud ass construction going on next door. And right before I saw Mockingjay, I got horrendously ill. This was all kinds of suck because not only was I sitting in the theater attempting to not breathe on anyone, Mockingjay was quite good and I really wanted to enjoy it to my full capacity.
Spoilers after the jump.
Mockingjay picks up right where Catching Fire left off, with Katniss in District 13 and Peeta a captive of the Capitol. Inspired by Katniss’s actions in the last movie, most districts are now in open rebellion against the Capitol. President Coin, the leader at District 13, wishes to use Katniss to further inspire and unite all the districts so they can break free of the Capitol’s tyranny. Katniss initially refuses, but she eventually concedes under the condition that Peeta and the other tributes be rescued as soon as possible and forgiven for any and all crimes—the Capitol has been forcing Peeta to be their spokesperson urging the districts to stand down. This is not a popular choice, but President Coin agrees since they need Katniss to act as the face of the rebellion. The movie ends with Peeta’s rescue, but unfortunately, he has been brainwashed. Upon seeing Katniss again, he immediately attempts to kill her. The last shot of the movie is of Katniss looking at a deranged Peeta strapped to a bed.
While I have always considered The Hunger Games movies to be enjoyable, they are by no means the best when it comes to any kind of representation. The story is almost entirely heteronormative, and though Katniss is clearly an ethnic minority in the books, the movies unnecessarily whitewashed her. (For a pleasant change, though, Coin’s head of security is Black, and he doesn’t die like every other ethnic minority cast for these movies—Cinna, Thresh, Rue, to name a few.) I’ve also always been put off by the movies’ constant need to erase character’s disabilities. Forgoing amputating Peeta’s leg is still something I question, and I find it hard to enjoy his character when that is all I can think about every time he appears on screen.
At the very least, both Mockingjay and Catching Fire don’t feel the need to erase the characters’ PTSD. Mockingjay even opens with Katniss suffering a panic attack after a bad dream, and throughout the film she has trouble sleeping. Katniss’s PTSD ended up being a huge part of the third book—she often hid herself in closets and had trouble adjusting to life in District 13—and I would have been severely disappointed had the movie left it out. But while the Mockingjay movie does present a traumatized Katniss, it doesn’t expand much on what the characters Finnick and Haymitch are going through. Finnick, like Katniss, also has PTSD and the Capitol has captured his girlfriend, Annie.
With Annie’s wellbeing hanging over his head, we do see a very subdued Finnick who compulsively ties fishing knots in an attempt to deal with his own anxiety. Though the movie doesn’t expand on Finnick as much as I would have liked, I’m hardly going to fault it. There are plenty of other issues Mockingjay needs to deal with, such as the starting war, political intrigue, torture, murder, and slavery. I can say, though, that I was very happy during the monologue Finnick’s character gives to be filmed and sent to the Capitol. Through it, we learn a lot about some of the trauma he and the other victors have gone through, even after winning their games—such as rape. I’m incredibly happy a movie as popular as Mockingjay kept this scene; sexual assault is not something that gets talked about a lot, especially sexual assault against men.
It is important for The Hunger Games movies to include these issues and do them justice, not only because their popularity means that they can reach a wide number of people and present disabilities realistically, but also to further the narrative. The war starts because people feel victimized by the Capitol. Rue’s death sparks a revolution, and people grasp at her memory and Katniss’s love for her because they’ve all lost something. People have lost their children, their homes, and their lives. It makes the story stronger to know that our main characters have also lost things precious to them, and that strengthens the narrative. Both Katniss and Finnick lose part of themselves due to the Hunger Games and the subsequent slavery that followed. They are both psychologically scarred. It only hurts the story when the movies attempt to cut these issues out. Peeta lost his leg in the book. He will now have a disability for life because the Capitol shoved him into an arena and forced him and a bunch of other children to murder each other. His leg is something that will affect him for the rest of his life, and for once, we would have ended up with a physically disabled male lead who was also a love interest. But Peeta is not the only character with whom the movies fail.
I cannot say I was impressed with what Mockingjay does with Haymitch’s character. He’s hardly in it, and what we do see of him doesn’t expand on his character all that much. Haymitch, due to his own experiences in the Hunger Games and President Snow having his family murdered, turned to drugs and alcohol to deal with his pain. District 13 has a strict prohibition, meaning that Haymitch should be going through some serious withdrawal. The movie neglects this almost entirely. Instead, we are given a one-off line meant for humorous effect where Haymitch asks Katniss if she was prescribed any pain medication.
Despite my complaints, there were a lot of things I did like about this movie. For one, we are introduced to several new female characters, such as President Coin and Cressida. It’s not hard to see that there’s more to President Coin than initially meets the eye—not only is she the military leader of the rebellion, she clearly has her own corrupt agenda. I am not at all surprised by this, because Mockingjay takes place in a dystopian society, and corrupt leaders seem to be a requirement for that. I’m instead much more interested in Cressida, who defected from the Capitol in order to join the rebellion. Since Cressida was born in the Capitol, she herself has not been victimized the same way the other characters have. She is someone who comes from a place of privilege and is only with the rebels, fighting back against her own people, because that’s the right thing to do. Cressida is also someone who takes pride in her own work, and she willingly goes into dangerous situations where she could be killed to help Katniss and the rebellion.
It is also through Cressida that we meet a disabled character, Pollux. Pollux used to be an Avox—a slave in the Capitol who had his tongue cut out—which is more than likely the reason he joined the rebellion. Until Mockingjay, the movies haven’t talked all that much about the Avoxes. They were in the previous movies, normally standing in the background, but who they were was never explained. It seemed odd to me that the movies cut them out, since the books used them to further expand on how evil the Capitol is. And much like Peeta’s leg, their exclusion only hurts the story. In both The Hunger Games and Catching Fire books, Katniss meets two Avoxes that she knew previously. Her emotional connection to them and guilt over their situations—she felt she was at fault for not helping them and that she contributed to their current predicament—added a lot to the books, so I was happy that the Mockingjay movie finally decided to include them. However, Katniss doesn’t have the same emotional connection to Pollux as she did with the two Avoxes the movies cut out, and that takes away from the story significantly. In the books, we see Katniss interact with the Avoxes, be disgusted over their situation, connect with them, and let them know that she cares about who they are. Though the Mockingjay movie gives her a scene with Pollux, it unfortunately doesn’t have the same effect.
Even though it had a number of issues, I think out of all three movies thus far, I liked this one the most. Despite being a Part 1 of 2, it feels complete. One of my problems with The Deathly Hallows movies was that neither of them could stand on their own. Part 1 existed solely to build up to Part 2, which ended up being little more than a two-hour long battle sequence. I think I can safely say that that will not be the case here. Though I eagerly await Mockingjay Part 2’s release, Part 1 didn’t feel like half a movie. I’m sure by now that most of you Hunger Games fans have already gone to the theater to watch it, but if you haven’t, you should.