Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

Written at the time of the film's release...

The Best-Dressed Rebel in History (You Say You Want a Re-vo-lu-tion, We-ell, ya know, We'd All Love to See the Wardrobe)
"(If I Get Killed), Make Sure You Get it on Camera"

Okay, now it gets interesting.

"The Hunger Games" saga gets interesting, even as the dramatic momentum slows to a crawl to set up the paradoxes and conflicts that will ensue in the next film of the series due November 20, 2015 (mark your calendars, but better do it in pencil).

Mockingjay Part 1 has been released, and it is a game-changer, after two movies with the same premise (distopian society conducts its own crowd-pleasing and -controlling form of entertainment by pitting gladiators from each state into a winner-take-all death-match) and moves to the next step—those gladiators rising up like Spartacus to do battle against the leaders that oppressed/glorified them in the process.  

A non-CGI'd Hoffman, Moore and Jeffrey Wright plotting, plotting...

The games—the government's weapon of mass-distraction—are over, interrupted by Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) defiantly firing an insurrectionary arrow into the overhead circuitry of the Hunger Games arena. Now, it's sudden death and the battle is real. But...not really. What makes this entry interesting is that the battles and explosions mostly happen off-screen, the real fireworks are in the media as both sides of the conflict—the government and the various districts—engage in propaganda wars over the public air-waves. At this point, image is the big weapon of choice and the rebels (led by new-to-the series Julianne Moore and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, along with former champions Woody Harrelson and Jeffrey Wright) against the administration of President Snow (Donald Sutherland), who rescued Katniss in the last installment, Catching Fire. Now, the pressure on Katniss is not to participate in the games, but to become "The Mockingjay," "The Girl on Fire," the poster-girl to inspire and incite the masses to revolution.  

"If we burn, you burn with us"

They want her to be Joan of Arc—in which case "Girl on Fire" is not the most promising of titles.

The masses hardly need encouraging, with rebel attacks, random sabotage and giving the three-fingered (read between the lines?) Katniss salute in solidarity. Ms. Everdeen is not so spontaneous or rebellious—she chafes at her role as role-model.  Her concerns are for her family (who may have been lost in an attack on her home district 12) and her friends in harm's way, particularly Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) who has been captured by "The Capitol" for use in their own media wars.

Part 1 is merely the set-up for the fireworks to come in Part 2, where loyalties will be tested  and ultimate sacrifices made (inevitably). But the set-up has its interesting aspects embedded in author Suzanne Collins' designs that have been slightly glossed over in the previous movies. For instance, the Panem situation is an interesting commentary on existing political systems and their failures in practice, combining both communist and capitalist models that have both degenerated into the most lop-sided of societies of "some being more equal than others" and rich and poor separated by a wide economic gulf, with no middle-class to provide aspiration and cushion. Collins also argues that both agrarian and technological systems have their inherent weaknesses (she's preaching to the choir here—I live in Washington State).
Katniss receives a sly message from President Snow in Mockinjay 1

The other nice thing about Mockingjay 1 is the role of symbology in the proceedings—a concept that Christopher Nolan only stumbled around in his "Dark Knight" trilogy without really getting to the point. Katniss was made, reluctantly, into the Mockingjay of The Hunger Games by the Capitol.  She is just as reluctant to fulfill the role for the rebels, so there's a psychological war going on amid the bombings and the district-cleansings. The Capitol made The Girl on Fire their symbol. Now, that she's playing for the other team, they're just as ready to tear her down, even as the rebellion tries to build her up as their own, and as these things have a cyclical nature, once the rebellion claims her...
Even District 13 has a cyclical nature...

Well, let's not get ahead of ourselves. It's sufficient to say that The Hunger Games in the larger picture is saying something about fame and fortune, the danger of depending on symbols—especially reluctant ones—and the general manipulation of fiction for fact—certainly in its parallel to the "reality" television blip (please, God, is it over yet?), but also in the general use of myth-making and how the general public can be led like sheep to believe one thing as long as its comfortable (and what they want to hear), and then, on a dime, turn into a slathering "burn-the-witch" crowd at the contrary, even if it's that one has overstayed their welcome. (I would say that mob mentality could use a healthy smartening-up of "fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me" but I don't know how well I could float with my hands tied behind my back).

Don't believe me? Ask Bill Cosby. Or any U.S. President. Or anybody who has sought fame and still has something resembling a conscience, however useless as an appendix it has become to them. You probably have a hero right now walking a tightrope just one misstep from a fall. Hope they have a good press agent. A good alibi would do.

End of lecture. Back to Mockingjay, Part 1: Sure, there are things really, really wrong with it (Katniss shoots down a jet fighter, which then swerves into another one, taking down two jets with one shot...from a bow-and-arrow?  A bow-and-arrow??), but, in general, I liked this chapter better than the previous ones.  It will be interesting to see what they do for the finale.

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