The Hunger Games – Mockingjay, Part 1, is the third of the four Hunger Games films. It continues the series’ noble theme of individuals – in this case, teenagers – taking the responsibility of defending themselves, their families, their community and their countrymen against an all-powerful state that has zero respect for human life, for conscience, and for individual liberty, and that crushes poor people into near-starvation for the benefit of a sick elite of sycophants of an immensely cruel dictator.
Hmmm – why did the terms “North Korea” and “Venezuela” come to mind just now?
As the film opens, heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is trying to pull herself back together after the ordeal she just endured in the 75th Hunger Games, the government’s annual fight-to-the-death spectacle. Dictator Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland) rigged the event this year to try to kill Katniss because her nickname, The Mockingjay, inspires the populace as a symbol of defiance. In the contest Katniss, an expert archer, made a great shot that disabled a force field, knocked out all power to the capital, and ended the Games. She fell unconscious, but a rebel hovercraft brought her to safety.
In the rebel headquarters, Katniss is angry and feels let down because despite the assurances of her mentor Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), her partner in the Games, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), ended up being taken prisoner, along with allies Johanna Mason (Jena Malone) and Annie Cresta (Stef Dawson). But Alma Coin (Julianne Moore), the rebel president, and her advisor Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who had been a rebel plant in Snow’s regime, want Katniss to make propaganda videos for them as the face of the revolution anyway.
Dictator Snow addresses the nation, professing good intentions but announcing that anyone wearing the Mockingjay symbol that Katniss popularized will be shot as a traitor. To prove that point, his goons then and there execute three people via single gunshots to their hooded heads. Snow follows that up with a live propaganda broadcast in which captive Peeta says killing is not the answer. Katniss is shocked. She agrees to make rebel videos, but only if Peeta and the others will be pardoned if rescued. She learns that District 13, the rebels’ power base, has been amassing strength and rebelling for decades.
With a video team she goes to a combat zone in another district. Asked what should happen if she’s killed on the front lines, Katniss replies bluntly, “Get it on camera.” At a jammed field hospital she tells wounded rebels she will fight for them. President Snow then has jets bomb the hospital – “Kill the wounded,” he orders – but a horrified Katniss and her friend from home, Gale (Liam Hemsworth), respond by facing down strafing (like George C. Scott in Patton) from two oncoming jets and bringing them down with well-placed explosives-tipped arrows. Filmed standing in front of the burning hospital, Katniss eloquently denounces the regime and directly threatens Snow, reminding him that “fire is catching.”
Later, during a brief respite from the war, Katniss, asked to sing a song by one of the camera crew, sings the melancholy “The Hanging Tree,” which includes the lines, “Are you, are you Coming to the tree Where I told you to run So we’d both be free.” Soon, rebels are chanting “The Hanging Tree” as an anthem as they self-sacrificingly suffer mass casualties in a human wave attack.
A now obviously brainwashed Peeta makes another propaganda broadcast, but at the end of it he still has enough heart in him to warn Katniss the regime is about to bomb the rebel headquarters and kill her. Warned in time, the rebels survive. Alma Coin tells Katniss that she won’t forget Peeta’s warning. SPOILER ALERT: A six-man rebel team, including Gale, successfully rescues Peeta, Johanna, and Annie from the capital. But more torture and brainwashing have made Peeta see Katniss as an enemy. He tries to choke her to death, and only being knocked out stops him. Later, Katniss learns that in time, Peeta’s condition can be reversed. The film ends with an anguished Katniss watching through an isolation room window as Peeta, under restraints, thrashes about in a hospital bed.
With her quiver, arrows and unerring aim, Katniss is obviously a figure for Diana the Huntress. But besides that pagan Roman “goddess,” she also resembles St. Joan of Arc, the real-life French teenage warrior who, as the Hungarian patriot Kossuth wrote, “is the only person of either sex who has ever held supreme command of the military forces of a nation at the age of seventeen.” Katniss’s courage also resembles that of Sophie Scholl, the German student who wrote, “Stand up for what you believe in even if you are standing alone,” and whom the Nazis beheaded in 1943 with her brother Hans when she was 21 and he 24. Their “crime” was “treason” – that is, non-violent resistance to the evil regime.
The Hunger Games series concludes with The Hunger Games – Mockingjay, Part2, coming next.
The MPAA rating for this movie: “PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images and thematic material.” (Thankfully, no bad language.) Francis Lawrence directed and Nina Jacobson and Jon Kilik were the producers. Peter Craig and Danny Strong wrote the screenplay. James Newton Howard was the composer and Jo Willems the cinematographer. David Scheunemann and Dan Webster were supervising art directors. Philip Messina was the production designer and Larry Dias the set decorator. Kurt and Bart handled costume design.
— Dan Engler