The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Expectations from Literature to Film
*Spoilers ahead for The Hunger Games Trilogy*
Suzanne Collins has captured the hearts of people around the world with her trilogy: The Hunger Games. Her presentation of a post-apocalyptic, dystopian society that destroys childlike innocence and encourages docility with mediated violence was so astoundingly powerful that Gary Ross directed a film version of the first novel only four years after its release.
For those that are unfamiliar with the trilogy, The Hunger Games is set in Panem, a world comprised of 12 districts. Society had to pick itself up again under the rule of President Snow after a terrible war that nearly destroyed everything and everyone. In order to prevent such a tragedy from striking again, each district in Panem would offer up “tributes,” a young girl and boy between the ages of 12 and 18 to fight to the death “in a pageant of honor, courage and sacrifice.”
This “pageant” known as “The Hunger Games” pulls in a girl from the most impoverished District 12, Katniss Everdeen. What follows in the trilogy is a story about a heroine teetering between the great need for change, her representation as a symbol for rebellion, and her fear of harming others from her actions. The compelling plot and thematic elements surrounding the books have been well-translated into film with minor backlash from its fanbase (with one or two minor hiccups), and with two films coming out for the last book in 2014 and 2015, there are high expectations for what is to come.
There are a variety of films that nearly ruined a franchise and ignited riots across media platforms, The Last Airbender for example, but The Hunger Games has thus far been very successful. With one last part to the trilogy, the finale is a make or break opportunity. With the decision to split the final book between two films, there is plenty of room to put all of the essential scenes and capture the primary themes.
So what does the film need to do a great finale justice? And what can ultimately break the film? This article shall break down major moments and themes in the trilogy to properly explore what must happen on the big screen, and how, for the film to ultimately be successful in fan’s eyes. It will be looking internally and moving to the external. The inner workings of the characters’ minds and the way this comes across on screen is essential for the film’s themes to come across clearly.
Part I: The Bones
A movie is not just what is seen on screen. A movie consists of endless amounts of production decisions, the works of screenwriters, directors, a design team, etc. In order to understand what is to be expected of the film itself, there must first be an understanding of the team going into the work.
To start, one must take the basic structure of the books and translate them into film. Naturally it is nearly impossible to fit every last detail of any novel into film format, and the screen writers have to make very distinct choices of what to keep in to tell a story, and what to take out to keep the film compact. The first film was written by Gary Ross and Billy Ray with contributions by Suzanne Collins, and the second film was written by Michael Arndt and Simon Beaufoy.
This next installment of the trilogy is being written by Danny Strong. Danny Strong is an actor and screenwriter best-known for his role as Jonathan Levinson in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and has won an Emmy for his HBO movie, Game Change.
As a man who initially started out in Hollywood as an actor, Strong never meant to commit to writing:
I started writing to get my mind off of my auditions. It was more like a hobby than a goal. I wasn’t going to attach myself to my scripts; I was just going to try to do it separately. (Busis)
Even so his Emmy is evidence of a passionate man who dedicates everything he can into his writing. Before writing the game changer, he was sure to research every aspect of Sarah Palin as he could. He interviewed 25 people on the McCain-Palin campaign and managed to get a variety of different opinions that created a person out of the media caricature. This sort of dedication to Game Change is precisely the kind of commitment viewers want out of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay.
As for Mockingjay — I can say very little about it. I was approached to pitch on it, and I just literally holed myself up for a week and came up with a presentation for two movies. I pitched my little heart out, and got the job. I literally can’t say anything else — I will just get in trouble. It’s, like, Defcon 5 on security over there. It’s really crazy. (Busis)
As a screenwriter for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay he has the benefit of writing in pivotal moments from outside of Katniss’s mind. Through these moments he must then capture the major themes that are imperative for the film’s success. These written scenes must then come to life on the big screen.
Lionsgate entertainment once again signed on Francis Lawrence, the director for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, for the two-part finale. Best known for Constantine (2005) and I am Legend (2007), Lawrence has also worked on a multitude of music videos including Destiny Child’s “Emotion” and Britney Spears’s “I’m a Slave 4 U”. While he may not have many motion pictures under his belt, it’s evident that Lawrence has much to bring to The Hunger Games: Mockingjay.
As a relatively fresh face in the directing game, Lawrence’s integrity has been compromised once or twice before by his producers and his production team. He once mentioned that “I Am Legend” would have turned out better if he was able to stick to the “last man on Earth” plot-line. However, because he lacked the clout and the Hollywood film experience to back him, there was little he could do.
Francis Lawrence has a distinct understanding of the challenges he must face. Directing from literature to film never translates perfectly, and as a director he must make very distinct choices. At the same time, he is in the unfortunate position of coping with the choices made by his predecessor, Gary Ross, who directed the first film. Lawrence is in a balancing act between making the film series his own, and honoring the framework left behind.
In an interview with the Huffington Post, it is clear that Lawrence has great respect for the story that Collins’s wrote and that he wants to tell that story in the best way possible. He recognized that the second movie could not be about the spectacle of the capitol but he had to further portray the Capitol’s corruption that the first film only hinted at. In The Hunger Games: Catching Fire he made the film “as rich and emotional an experience as possible,” and the emotional experience only grows in the final two installments. The last two films have so much more at stake than just the lives of the tributes, but the entire infrastructure is what must then come down. In Mockingjay, death is less of a theme than an unfortunate result of a much bigger picture.
With a two-part finale in mind, one cannot help but wonder what this implies. Lawrence loves cliffhangers, and is even basing his decisions for the two-part finale on a series best known for its cliffhangers, Breaking Bad. To him, each episode of Breaking Bad “opened bold and they end bold and [Lawrence] just think[s] that’s fun stuff” (Ryan). The first film has to end at the culmination of all of Katniss’s anxieties and fears coming to life. Jennifer Lawrence must build up her character, prepared to fight, only to fall again. The best moment for this to happen, is when Peeta warns them of the Capitol’s bombing of District 13. Immediately after Peeta’s warning, District 13 evacuates its upper levels and the refugees go far underground.
If Lawrence believes a movie should “open bold” then the second movie should open with a step in a new direction. Mockingjay dragged on and had little to offer beyond Katniss’s suffering, but the films have the opportunity to provide sequences that were only mentioned in the books. A significant way to open up the second film is through Peeta’s rescue, voiced over by Katniss’s interview about Peeta. Katniss’s suffering in the third book is dry, and dull. However, filming Peeta’s rescue allows the audience to clearly see how important Katniss is to the cause. Everyone knows how important Katniss is but Katniss, and the audience should have the opportunity to see the same.
Characters and Casting
The cast is what ultimately brings fans to the film, and – so far – the trilogy has yet to disappoint.However, with the death of the ever-talented Phillip Seymore Hoffman one has to question what the films will bring to the table. New characters will be introduced in this film, and other characters will (or at least should) finally have the spotlight they deserve.
Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s portrayal of Plutarch is, and was phenomenal. In the second book and film, Plutarch was someone that everyone was unsure of. He seemed to have a higher purpose, but whether it was for himself or for the greater good was not evident until the very end of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. That being said, the concern revolving around Plutarch has less to do with Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s performance and more to do with what is to become of the character with his passing.
Thankfully, the producers have made the very wise choice not to recast. In fact, Hoffman only missed eight to ten days of filming. While this is pivotal within the scope of filming, the decision has been made to give some of Plutarch’s more pivotal lines to other characters so as not to cheapen Hoffman’s work. According to director Francis Lawrence they “are going to put him into those scenes, but [they’re] only using real footage. [They’re] not creating anything digital or a robotic version of him” (Goodman).
So, all that is left is for Plutarch’s sickening enthusiasm for broadcasting to show. He treats life like a reality show and takes pleasure in portraying excellent footage. Even when tragedy strikes he makes a point to turn it into excellent footage to be broadcast to the masses.
President Alma Coin
President Coin is a woman who has power and loves it. Within the pages of Mockingjay it is very evident that she wants Katniss to know her place, and that she is quite fond of control. That being said, her intentions at least seem good. While reading the book, it is much easier to distrust Coin because everything is filtered through Katniss’s broken psyche. She is a young woman coming-of-age and dealing with war all at once. Katniss’s issues with authority have been evident since before The Hunger Games and it can sometimes be easy to forget that just because Katniss distrusts someone, it does not necessarily mean everyone has to at first.
Julianne Moore, the actress cast to play President Coin, very astutely recognizes the benefits of playing Coin. “Coin is very sparingly drawn, because you don’t know who she is because she’s only spoken about from Katniss’ point of view…And Katniss immediately distrusts her in the way that sometimes a young person will distrust an older person who’s not familiar to them or in a position of authority” (Cassie).
Annie Cresta represents psychological trauma at its greatest. During the 70th Hunger Games, she witnessed her district partner’s beheading and was driven to insanity as a result of that. After witnessing this death she hid until the entire arena flooded, effectively killing off all of her competition. However, she is so much more than her psychological trauma; she represents hope.
When Annie is saved by the rebels, it is the first sign of hope and happiness for Finnick and District 13. She is the reason why Finnick cannot fight against the Capitol and she is the reason why Finnick can relate to Katniss’s own fears about Peeta.
Primrose’s character development takes a darker turn in the final book. She is a true product of innocence tarnished by a cruel reality, but – unlike Katniss – she is able to maintain her gentle side.
I look at my little sister and think how she has inherited the best qualities our family has to offer: my mother’s healing hands, my father’s level head, and my fight. There’s something else there as well, something entirely her own. An ability to look into the confusing mess of life and see things for what they are (184).
As Prim’s surrogate mother after their father’s death (and their mother’s inability to function), Katniss was able to give herself hope. Prim wanted to be a doctor and, while Prim was not phased by death and pain, she also did not stoop so low as to cause death. She chose the path of the healer and has a very distinct understanding what is happening around her.
Gale has been given some minor opportunities in the previous two films to show his discontent with the Capitol, but not enough opportunity to show his absolute rage. Gale’s unforgiving attitude towards the Capitol is precisely why he makes a good leader for the rebellion. He is willing to do whatever it takes to succeed. Now, this does not necessarily mean that he is morally correct, but it does mean that he can match anger with action.
He was the first person in the trilogy to present the idea of rebellion to the readers, and it was he who ultimately saved a number of people from District 12. However, while he starts out as a hero, Gale begins to devolve into a cruel, unforgiving crusader of sorts. He starts to use all of his prowess as a hunter and mercilessly kills anyone allied with the Capitol. And it is one of his traps that ultimately kills Prim.
Out of all of the characters in the trilogy, Peeta has to go through the most pivotal change. From the happy, naive, young man of the first two films, Josh Hutcherson must dig deep and give his character an entire personality flip. When he is finally saved by the rebels, his mind has been corrupted and “hijacked” to believe that Katniss is a mutt and the reason for all of his problems.
“Don’t trust her , Delly…I did, and she tried to kill me. She killed my friends. My family. Don’t even go near her! She’s a mutt!” (190).
His character progression becomes more pivotal when he starts to pull himself out the haze. Peeta is no longer the naive boy that fell in love with Katniss and he begins to see the types of horrible things that Katniss did to him. This is where even more problems can appear for the upcoming two films. Peeta is not someone that we fell completely in love with. So when his character does an entire 180 where will our sympathy go? So much sympathy has been placed on Katniss Everdeen that the audience can forget that she has many unlikable traits. In the moments prior to Peeta’s hijacking, when he is only seen on a television screen, the audience must see his descent into madness.
Part II: The Body
After everything is established, what is then taken from the film is most important. Will the themes properly be portrayed? Will proper screen time be given to specific characters? Will there be a sense of satisfaction from fans or will viewers leave feeling empty? There are very necessary and pivotal moments that need to happen in the film, and the putting them in can ultimately make the film.
The film Catching Fire ended with Katniss learning about the rebel cause. Plutarch, Haymitch, and a number of her allies during the Quarter Quell all intended to free her from Capitol clutches. However, this rescue mission came at a price: Peeta. While Katniss had been saved, they had no chance or opportunity to rescue Peeta. There was too much risk involved with that possibility, but Katniss – a strong-willed individual – does not accept this. The first two parts of the book are devoted to Katniss’s guilt over leaving Peeta behind during the Quarter Quell, and her inability to trust the rebels, the capitol, and her own self-worth.
Katniss has much difficulty dealing with the role thrust upon her as the Mockingjay. Her inability to acknowledge her importance is strengthen by her fear of the effect she has on others. Katniss knows that people die at the hands of The Capitol, but she is very aware that many deaths have been due to her own actions. Had she remained docile like Snow wanted, and had she not rebelled in the first film, no one would have died beyond the Hunger Games.
Her insecurities are further fleshed out with her guilt over Peeta’s capture and the bombing of District 12. Katniss knows that, had she continued playing Snow’s game, everyone would have survived. Although she was unaware of her extraction and the impending rebellion in the first place, Katniss acknowledges that the blame ultimately falls on her. The challenge this film then faces, is contrasting Katniss’s turmoil, with her drive to ultimately defeat The Capitol.
Suzanne Collins’s trilogy is written in first-person subjective. The most readers can understand is entirely through Katniss’ internal monologue and observations of the world. Jennifer Lawrence has continuously delivered superb performances for each film but this one could very well be the most taxing. A review in the Washington Post had this to say about Jennifer Lawrence’s performance in Catching Fire:
Jennifer Lawrence, who in Katniss has found a character that chimes perfectly with her own persona as an earthy, blunt-speaking ingenue suddenly thrust into a world of celebrity and media-fueled idol worship. Somehow managing to look like a real, flesh-and-blood girl even in “Catching Fire’s” most bizarre tableaux, Lawrence is never less than compelling, her rounded cheeks suggesting innocence but her sharp, alert gaze suggesting otherwise, whether she’s aiming her notorious bow and arrow or scrutinizing Cinna’s latest incendiary creation.
From The Hunger Games to Catching Fire it is evident that the Capitol’s affect on Katniss’s psyche grows by the day, and Jennifer Lawrence was able to bring it to its peak in the Jabberjay sequence in Catching Fire.
However, as we know, Katniss is more than the psychological trauma she experiences. She is strong, bold, sarcastic, and rebellious. Her utter lack of respect for undeserving authority is exactly why she is primed to be the Mockingjay. The next film needs to find the healthy balance between Katniss’s insecurities and her ability to rise above the ashes.
“That’s her…Right there. With the costume, gunfire in the background, just a hint of smoke!” -Fulvia (41)
District 13 Reflects the Capitol
District 13 serves as a reflection and a foil to the Capitol. Just as the Capitol took advantage of glitz and glamour to push their cause, Plutarch and his team attempt to do the same for the sake of District 13. Fulvia and Plutarch have extensive conversations of how the Mockingjay should look as opposed to what the Mockingjay can do. To them, she is a trophy, the face of the rebellion but not meant to serve. At the same time, the Coin only wants Katniss to serve as a figure head.
“Plutarch and I have been talking about how on earth we can pull this off. We think it might be best to build you, our rebel leader, from the outside…in. That is to say, let’s find the most stunning Mockingjay look possible, and then work your personality up to deserving it!” (44).
Katniss sarcastically claims, “Welcome to the Capitol” for this harmless moment, but it is evident as the book progresses that this statement rings true (45). Moments after Fulvia’s insulting attempt at recreating Katniss’s image, Katniss sees a more terrifying one:
“I dart around the distracted guard, push open the door marked 3908, and find them. Half-naked, bruised, and shackled to the wall. My Prep team.”
District 13 reflects the Capitol’s frivolous side, but also its darker side. They are willing to do whatever they can and whatever it takes to succeed. The question then lies in how Hollywood will approach this scene. Katniss’s prep team (besides Cinna) were presented as faceless individuals. Without being given any consideration or importance, and without the opportunity to represent the frivolous, misguided side of the Capitol, a scene that portrays their punishment means little to an uninformed audience.
The turning point that truly presents the dangers of District 13 and President Coin’s rush to power is after the war ends.
Part III: How Hollywood Can Blow It
Interestingly enough, Hollywood can ruin the entire franchise by mimicking Plutarch’s and Fulvia’s decisions to glamorize the love-triangle, and to make Katniss Everdeen something she is not. Collins’s novels distinctly criticize “sugarcoating” and the misrepresentation of individuals, but the need to make money means rating the films PG-13 instead of R. This limits what can, and cannot be portrayed in the film, and classic Hollywood tropes can also ruin the integrity of the story.
Rather than presenting Peeta as a funny, gentle creature, he was portrayed as forlorn, lovesick puppy. At the same time, Gale is featured as a bitter ex-boyfriend, or the heartbroken best friend. Yet, both characters serve as stark contrasts in more than just there relationships with Katniss. Peeta Mellark is a kind, gentle, all-around nice person that fans unfortunately care little about. What makes Peeta so formidable in the game is that he is genuinely likable, but the films portray him too heavily through Katniss’s own mistrust.
On the other side of the coin, Gale has been portrayed as a jealous, raging boyfriend more than as a rebel. He has been devalued as a person seeking vengeance and more as a young man seeking Katniss’s affection. If Hollywood continues down this path with the final film, there would be no further point to the war and everything would devolve into Katniss’s decision of who to end up with.
Sugarcoating the Capitol’s Corruption
There are a number of distinct things already left out in previous films. Hollywood wanted to make a movie that sold to a larger audience, and they made sure to remove a lot of minor details that the finale needs to hold any weight. The Capitol is awful, but the extent of how corrupt they – and President Snow – are is only barely touched upon. There are a variety of characters that are never seen or hardly given screen time. Yet, in the trilogy even the most minor characters are relevant.
The first film failed to mention what makes the mutts so terrifying. The mutts are not only overpowered, man-made creations. The mutts are made to psychologically break the people confronting them. In the first film, the mutts at the end of the Hunger Games are made worse because they have the eyes of all of the dead tributes.
My head snaps from side to side as I examine the pack, taking in the various sizes and colors. The small one with the red coat and amber eyes…Foxface! And there, the ashen hair and hazel eyes of the boy from District 9 who died as we struggled for the backpack! And worst of all, the smallest mutt, with dark glossy fur, huge brown eyes and a collar that reads 11 in woven straw. Teeth bared in hatred. Rue… (25.16)
The Capitol uses more than violence to break its citizens, the governing power cleverly utilizes psychological warfare to truly break an individual. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire very slightly touches upon this with the Jabberjay scene, but not enough for the muttations to truly have any lasting affect.
2. The Avox
The Capitol and the higher level districts are maintained by the Avox. An Avox is a person with their tongue cut out and punished to servitude for traitorous actions. The first two films fail to mention or even present the Avox and – while they do not play pivotal roles in pushing the plot – are necessary to represent how evil the Capitol is. They punish without remorse and keep those punished around as examples. Katniss herself almost became an Avox when she went hunting out of District 12’s limits, and even witnessed two individuals get captured, only to see them later on as Avox.
Sex has always been taboo in Hollywood. The first film is entirely fine with showing children dying at each other’s hands, but the minute it takes a step towards sexual transgression it leaps back. The second film touches upon Finnick’s fascination with secrets, but will the third and fourth film follow up why? Finnick dealt in secrets because it was the only substantial thing he could take control of as a child prostitute. Since winning the Hunger Games at age 14, he became a prostitute that served the people of the Capitol.
His experiences as a prostitute are both pivotal to the plot, and extremely important to represent the Capitol’s corruption. They take autonomy away in law and in the body and no one is spared. In a world where Haymitch’s entire family is killed for stepping out of the line, it’s no wonder that Finnick is so broken in the third book. Secrets are what kept him going during his days as a prostitute, and secrets are a pivotal point in turning the tides of war.
“Finnick was someone bought and sold. A district slave. A handsome one, certainly, but in reality, harmless” (171).
Distinct Lines of Good and Evil
What ultimately makes the final book powerful is the ambiguity between right and wrong. In order to win the war, the rebels had to make very distinct choices, but – ultimately – a majority of the characters were looking out for their own best interests. Even Katniss only wanted to fight in the first place so that she could save Peeta Mellark. Her distrust of others is a direct reflection of society’s inability to trust governing powers, so what can Hollywood do to ruin this?
Quite simply, Hollywood could draw a very distinct line that divides the Capitol and the rebels. Collins is unforgiving in her portrayal of corrupt governing powers, and further unforgiving in her critique of war. War does not have a “true” victor anymore than the Hunger Games themselves did. Rather, war leaves behind a series of victims on either end of the war. If the film fails to tread ambiguity then the death of Primrose at the end of the film will have less meaning. In fact, any of Katniss’s actions, either for the greater good or herself, will have little to no meaning entirely. If Hollywood only wants to praise the rebellion, then Katniss’s inevitable assassination of President Coin will be for naught.
It’s entirely valid to turn The Hunger Games: Mockingjay into two films. Although this decision may have been to get more money, it could be a very excellent decision provided that every necessary point is covered. The final two films are doing more than bringing the pages of the third book to life, they have to round out the missing parts of the first two films.
Busis, Hillary. “Best of 2012 (Behind the Scenes): ‘Game Change’ (and ‘Mockingjay’) writer Danny Strong on his biggest year.” Entertainment Weekly 1 Jan. 2012: n. pag. Web.
Carpenter, Cassie. “First look at Julianne Moore as President Coin in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay alongside the late Philip Seymour Hoffman.” Daily Mail 16 May 2014: n. pag. Print.
Goodman, Jessica. “How Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Role In ‘Mockingjay’ Will Be Produced.” The Huffington Post 14 May 2014: n. pag. Print.
McWeeney, Drew. “He’s in charge for the rest of the series, and that’s a good thing Read more at http://www.hitfix.com/motion-captured/francis-lawrence-on-making-jennifer-lawrence-angry-in-catching-fire#HX2pphZi9HmhbXc2.99.” Hit Flix 1 Jan. 2013: n. pag. Web.
Ryan, Mike. “Francis Lawrence On How ‘Breaking Bad’ Influenced ‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’.” Huffington Post 19 Nov. 2013, sec. Entertainment: n. pag. Web.
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