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    By now, you know Jennifer Lawrence is from Louisville (and oh, how we love her!) and you almost certainly know the basic premise of The Hunger Games. But in case you don’t: The Hunger Games is based around a dystopian society (Panem) in which teenage/adolescent tributes from 12 districts are forced to battle once a year to the death for the reality-tv amusement of the rest of the nation. The Hunger Games follows the ascent of Katniss Everdeen from volunteer tribute to government-overthrowing revolutionary. 

    The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 is the first half of the last installment of The Hunger Games. In it, Katniss (Lawrence) has been pulled from her second round of games and spirited away to the creepy claustrophobic bosom of District 13. In 13, anti-capital rebels are led by President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) who wants to use Katniss as a bow-and-arrow-toting figurehead for the rebellion. It’s a propaganda battle with the uber-evil Capital, led by President Snow (Donald Sutherland) who’s using Lawrence’s sometime paramour Peeta (Kentucky native Josh Hutcherson) as a figurehead to try and tamp down a nation of disquiet rebels. Throughout the movie, we watch as the country slowly but surely dissolves into the chaos of civil war.

    Katniss Everdeen is a less publicly expressive, more practical heroine. In the books, her internal monologue gives the reader a chance to understand her hesitance to assist the rebellion; in the movies, that inner motivation has to be expressed through nuance, expression and dialogue. A lesser performer would almost certainly be tempted to ham up the role, but Lawrence’s instinct for bold, unapologetic, almost blunt acting saves the day.

    We’re reminded, through Lawrence’s performance, that Katniss is still a teenager, and one to which an incredible burden of meaning has been assigned. There’s no doubt Katniss is suffering from a raging case of PTSD and a worse case of self-doubt. Should she consent to be the public face of this much-needed revolution, knowing that many will die because of that decision? It’s a question we’re forced to ask ourselves as she stands in the shattered remains of what was once her hometown, and surveys hundred of piled-up, desiccated corpses.

    Katniss shoots a rebellion PSA in a hospital for wounded rebels, and that hospital is subsequently bombed and burned to the ground. Is the “go team rebellion” commercial really worth the casualties? “If we burn, you burn with us!” the final cut of the commercial screeches toward the Capital, and with it a question: if we all burn, who will pick up the pieces? The landscape of the movie is dour, churning with battle about to happen, screaming with gray, futuristic aircraft and peppered with concrete bunkers.

    Mockingjay Part 1 deserves applause for keeping the love story on the back burner. Unlike other female-led fantasy stories The Hunger Games doesn’t focus on Katniss’s friendship with the hunky Gale (Chris Hemsworth is really too handsome to be a real) or her suspended romance with Peeta. Rather, more time is spent examining the pressures and relationships that influence Katniss: her mother and sister, Presidents Coin and Snow, the people of Panem, the camera crew assigned to follow her.

    There were a few light-hearted moments: the expanded role of Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket (“we will make you the best-dressed rebel in history!”) is almost certainly an homage to the fans. Katniss’s insistence that “my sister gets to keep her cat” as a condition for serving as Mockingjay is a ray of sunshine in an otherwise very dark movie. Several other performances stand out: most notably, the late great Phillip Seymour Hoffman delivers a world-weary and beautiful performance as a producer turned revolutionary.

    Perhaps we, as movie-goers, are more focused on the beautiful girl with the bow and arrow, but there’s a deeper message here. In the words of another famous movie about people killing each other for sport: “are you not entertained?” The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 isn’t all that fun to watch, but that almost feels like part of the Hunger Games experience. We, as an audience, (perhaps like the over-indulged residents of The Capital) go from amusement and entertainment to horror and revulsion. This isn’t a game anymore, it’s all-out war. And war is ugly.

    The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 will open November 21. Part 2 won’t be out for another year. 

    Images courtesy of Lionsgate

    Elizabeth Myers's picture

    About Elizabeth Myers

    Big fan of bacon and bourbon, deep fried anything, sweet tea and sweet nothings.

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