2014-11-21

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 – Love Is a Risk Worth Taking

by Yo Snyder

Mockingjay Part 1
may be the first time where I find myself fully supporting the move to split a
book into two parts for a movie. It was fine with Harry Potter, I didn’t even
bother to see if it made sense with Twilight,
and it’s obviously unnecessary with The
Hobbit
, but for Mockingjay it was
definitely the right move. Maybe even a necessary one. One of the biggest
issues with the book (there are several) is how rushed it sometimes felt. There
are some big ideas and great moments in the book that never get time to be
properly developed or to just breathe for a bit. There’s a headlong rush
towards the finale that saps the power from some truly intriguing moments. By
taking the book and splitting it into two movies, the story gets a chance to
breathe a bit more. It allows for the proper build up to some truly powerful
moments, and it gives us a chance to just dwell with the characters a bit more
in order to reflect on all that happens. Yes, doing this two-part thing still
carries the unavoidable flaw of such a choice – this is an incomplete story
without part 2, and it feels that way – but I walked away from Mockingjay Part 1 thinking not only was
it the right choice, but it may lead to the weakest book turning into the
strongest movie. At least, I certainly thought Mockingjay Part 1 was the best Hunger Games flick thus far.

Some of this improvement comes just from the natural
progression of a successful franchise. A bigger budget and a better, more
familiar feel for how to the handle the material leads to a more confident
product. There’s one scene towards the end of Mockingjay that shows just how far this series has come; the
combination of excellent cinematography, smart sound design, smart editing, and
a great sound track all blend perfectly together to create a tense,
edge-of-your-seat scene that remains such regardless of whether you’ve read the
books or not (I have and I was still nervous). The change in tone also greatly
helps the film. The story moves away from the actual Hunger Games and instead
becomes more of a war film, a story about desperate rebels trying to overthrow
a powerful, authoritarian government. The character of Gale does the most to
embody this change in the books, and while that doesn’t happen quite as much in
the movie (which is too bad), there’s enough to illustrate this change that it
still makes the proper impact.

There’s a lot of complex emotions to deal with in this part
of the story, from the post-trauma of the Hunger Games themselves to the
ongoing atrocities of an oppressive government trying to wipe out any and all
dissent to very complicated personal relationships. Jennifer Lawrence, for the
most part, does a fine job of conveying all of this. It would have been nice
had Liam Hemsworth had more development and screen time as Gale as at this
point he becomes a very interesting character in the book beyond just being the
“other guy” in the “romantic drama”. It was Josh Hutcherson as Peeta that I was
most concerned about. His character goes through some pretty dramatic changes
in this story, I wasn’t sure, based on the previous movies, that he would carry
it off. Fortunately, he does, and so capably that his key seen drew loud
reactions from the audience I was screening the film with. Obviously some of
them haven’t read the books. The rest of the cast is solid, with Julianne Moore
doing a great job at introducing us to President Coin and doing a great job at
setting up some epic material to come in the second part. Sutherland is
suitably creep as president snow, again essential for some of the developments
in part two. Finally, it’s hard not to feel a little twinge at seeing Philip Seymour
Hoffman one more time on the big screen, and it’s touching to see the
dedication to him at the end of the film.

There’s a lot of interesting subtext taking place in this
story, both politically and spiritually. However, the line that I found most
intriguing was Presidents Snow’s statement/taunt that it’s the people that we
love the most that ultimately destroy us. It’s a statement that illustrates the
inherent risky nature of love. Occasionally I run across someone who seems
surprised at the idea that God would love us. Especially in light of the story
in Genesis where we, the ones God loved so much that he made us the crowning achievement
in all of his creation, turn our back on him and betray him with sin and
rebellion. Why would God have ever allowed that? Why would God bother with the
inherent risks of love, especially when he knew what the outcome was? The
amazing answer is; God thought we were worth the risk. He just loves us that
much. He knew the risks, but he also knew the glorious triumph that would
result when we too would choose to risk it all for the love of God. Yes, love
is risky. It can leave us vulnerable and even open to destruction. God
experienced all of that, but he also knew that love was worth the risk, we were
worth the risk, you were worth the risk. Jesus Christ on the cross, Jesus
Christ leaving behind an empty tomb is living proof of that. So yeah, God’s
love is kind of surprising, but I’m so glad he took the risk.

I’m also glad they took the risk to break this story into
two parts. Granted, it leaves us with an incomplete story, so I may be singing
a different tune when Mockingjay Part 2
comes out, but for now I feel that splitting things up allows the story to
breathe and the characters to develop. I think ultimately it will be good to
have the extra time to properly move the pieces into place in order to fully
deliver on some of the big finale moments rather than rush through and do that
in just one movie. I was surprised to leave the theater thinking I just saw
perhaps the best Hunger Games movie thus far, hopefully when part 2 gets here,
that surprise won’t turn to disappointment.

Score: 6 of 7 – As always,
there’s some pretty dark moments here, nothing quite as brutal as the actual
games themselves, but this still isn’t a movie for younger audiences. It is,
however, a tense and moving film that gives us time to reflect not just on the
Hunger Games, but what comes next as rebellion catches fire.