By GAETANA CALDWELL-SMITH
Hunger Games, Mockingjay, Part I, directed by Francis Lawrence, with Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, and Liam Hemsworth.
How to build a revolution: Start with a tyrannical, revengeful president with a well-armed military; add a charismatic, self-effacing, yet heroic persona whose homeland was destroyed by his government; enhance with a wise, capable rebel president of the people; mix well with a savvy production team whose producer is asked by said president to create a revolutionary leader from a reluctant hero.
“Mockingjay” starts where “Catching Fire” ended. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) had been rescued by rebels. Her boyfriend, Peeta, her partner and co-winner in the first Games, was captured. There is an ongoing war now between Panem (the country of the rebels) and the Capital. The people who escaped and defected from the Capital have gone underground—way underground—like in an inverted high-rise building, in a maze of highly technical “cities” or enclaves, which are reached by banks of descending elevators.
Capital President Snow (Donald Sutherland) had fabricated a food and water shortage under the guise of population control, which, of course does not affect the rich (call them the 1 percenters). It kills thousands. Snow seeks revenge after the accidental hero, Katniss, who bends rules to the delight of the wealthy viewers, totally destroyed the president’s and the rich’s Survivor-like super-popular reality TV show, “Hunger Games,” with a well-aimed arrow (the end of “Catching Fire).” So he retaliates by bombing cities and districts, killing, wounding and disappearing the people of Panem.
Katniss meets the president of Panem, Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) and her advisor, Plutarch (the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman). Coin wants her to start a revolution—which will be filmed and beamed to the masses. But apolitical Katniss only wants to rescue Peeta. A trip to District 12, her home, destroyed by the Capital, changes her mind. It looks as bombed out as today’s news clips show of cities in Palestine, Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq.
Plutarch works on the propaganda film, and Katniss agrees to play along—with conditions. Plutarch films her in the midst of a real battle with bombs going off, buildings burning, and aircraft streaming overhead. It’s a propaganda war, like the one conjured up in “Wag the Dog,” with Katniss as the secret weapon. As an Entertainment Weekly writer put it, “a Che Guevara T-shirt made flesh.”
Chris Nashawaty of Entertainment Weekly wrote: “Director Francis Lawrence and his writers deserve some credit for daring to sneak any political cheekiness into a movie this corporate,” though he went on to say that their hands were still tied too tightly.
But I thought the film got a “subversive” political message across rather well—despite being padded with boring talking scenes that do nothing to further the story. It’s unfortunate that Hollywood chopped the film into two parts (to make even more money on the sequel). And so, we must wait a year for “Mockingjay, Part Two,” to see whether the revolution is successful.