Propaganda 101: The Mental Hunger Games
Those dedicated fans who read all the books in The Hunger Games series need no further impetus to see Mockingjay Part 1 in theaters. The only question relating to them is whether they will see it this weekend and help break all former records this box office powerhouse has shattered. To all other interested parties, rest assured; Mockingjay Part 1 is well worth the time. While it doesn’t pack the excitement or suspense specific to the games themselves, it is no less fascinating or compelling to watch, and some might argue more so, even given its obvious position as a set-up for the inevitable Capital and District rebellion’s final confrontation in Part 2.
Mockingjay Part 1 allows its stars time and room to explore their characters in all their damage, motivation, and spirit to change their world and their current circumstances. Those who have become fans of the franchise have watched Jennifer Lawrence become a household name and rise to the top in Hollywood, and for good reason. Here Lawrence’s character Katniss is in a position where she must experience the rising panic and struggle to maintain sanity inherent to post traumatic stress disorder. This happens uninterrupted by the constant need to survive physically, and the audience bears witness to it. She must make deeply personal decisions while challenged by her own moral code, her memories of horror, and her ever-evolving feelings for the two men in her life, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and Gale (Liam Hemsworth). Lawrence is up to the task, but of course this is no surprise to savvy film fans around the world. Anyone waiting for her to expose weakness as an actress are likely in for a long fruitless time of it. The co-stars also have more complicated introspective journeys to take, albeit with varying screen time given to do so. They all show heretofore unexposed sides of their characters, to likely great satisfaction for fans of everyone from Finnick (Sam Claflin) to Effie (Elizabeth Banks) to Haymitch (Woody Harrelson). Each have their moments to shine that punctuate the film with poignant or delicious scenes worthy of repeated viewing.
Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee, which from the first was a genius stroke of casting, is without question one of the highlights of the film. Although Hoffman’s Heavensbee does not flash with bombast or flamboyance, the portrayal is one filled with the sort of nuance for which Hoffman has become known. One of the last performances by an actor who most agree is the best of his generation, it is a balm for those still shaking their heads at the great waste his loss at such a young age means to the film community. That Mockingjay part 1 is dedicated to him feels right. It may not be Oscar worthy, but Hoffman is said to have never cared about anything but serving the role at hand, and here he does so perfectly, as always.
The central subject explored in Part 1 is propaganda, and its place in cementing loyalty to any cause. Katniss is the firebrand, the representation of courage and hope. The rebellion needs her to be seen by all as inspiration to take up the fight and not remain under the whip of the Capital, President Snow, and the colossal fire power at his disposal. How the characters in this film do that, guided by the rebellion’s president Coin (Julianne Moore) and her team of filmmakers including ‘director’ Cressida (Natalie Dormer), is by far the most fascinating aspect of the movie. In the real world, during WW2 and beyond, propaganda was an essential catalyst to galvanize any group taking up arms. In Mockingjay Part 1, the audience gets to see in detail how that is achieved, and at what cost to those involved. While it’s true that the war’s climax and it’s results are not shown here, what is on offer is not only true to the heart of the series, it is essential to those who have come to be attached to the characters and their stories. If going in to this movie, an audience member desires non-stop action, the original point and meaning behind The Hunger Games is lost on them anyway*.
Director Francis Lawrence gets to the meat of what all The Hunger Games are about in Mockingjay part 1. In my screening, some moviegoers, mostly those in their teens, grumbled they were unhappy to have to wait for another movie to see the story’s conclusion. I say they’ve missed the point of the whole thing. This film is no less than “The MENTAL Hunger Games”—how ideas survive and thrive, either to the detriment or the benefit of a healthy society, and how dueling manipulations from two sides build or break down the core of a society’s populous.
It is propaganda and manipulation that led to the capital’s control and iron fisted rule, and it will be the same that will inspire the rebellion to change the world in which they suffer. Katniss as their inspiration is the way. How that takes shape, and as crafted through the talents of: Jennifer Lawrence. Philip Seymour Hoffman. Woody Harrelson. Jeffrey Wright. Elizabeth Banks. Donald Sutherland. Julianne Moore. Natalie Dormer. Liam Hemsworth. Josh Hutcherson….as well as the moral questions that surface as a result, all make for a truly mesmerizing two hours.
4 out of 5 stars.
*If you wonder how much effect The Hunger Games and its message of equality for all is having on the world, check out
these links will speak to that…