Mockingjay, Part 1: Why Three Weeks at #1 Is Totally Deserved

Yesterday it was announced that Mockingjay, Part 1 was dethroned after three weeks at the #1 spot in America. For me, I felt that this was totally deserved, except that it really should have stayed on the top spot longer. It’s not only a great first half to what is bound to be an epic conclusion with Mockingjay, Part 2, but it’s such an awesome movie in its own right. Here are just a few reasons why I think so:

Mockingjay (the book and the movie) is so underrated

As a middle-school English teacher, I try to read as many YA (young adult) books as I can, especially those that have made it to the big screen, because those are invariably the most popular books among kids (er, young adults). When students come to me looking for a book recommendation, I can then ask them, “Have you tried this series?”

With the Hunger Games series, though, I see students get excited for the first one, even more enthusiastic for the second one, and the only way to describe their reactions to the third one is, well, lackluster. I suppose it’s because the third Hunger Games doesn’t even feature the Hunger Games. I suppose it’s because Katniss doesn’t really engage in much open combat in the book, like she did in the previous two. I suppose it’s because the major conflict is political.

But that’s what’s fascinating to me. District 13 is changing the public discourse of the entire country of Panem simply by showing propaganda over hacked TV waves. Finally, finally, Katniss can publicly show her open defiance against the Capitol and against Snow. In the previous two stories, she was forced to keep silent to save herself and her family. Finally, Katniss is vindicated.

The propos are particularly fascinating because they look so much like the movie trailers we’ve been seeing in the months leading up to this movie, like how the teaser trailers looked just like we were watching President Snow, Peeta and Johanna on a TV in Panem.

The point of view shifts away from Katniss, which is a good thing

When I asked my students what they thought of this new movie (especially those who hadn’t read the book, which I promptly scolded them for), some said, “It’s all about filming Katniss”, which is totally untrue (never mind the fact that this was one of the parts that fascinated me). This is the first movie in the series so far to break away from a constant focus on Katniss as much as they did. The book certainly doesn’t do that. The Hunger Games series in its entirety is told in a first person perspective. Everything is told through Katniss’s eyes.

This is one thing that, I think, makes Mockingjay the movie better than the book so far: We’re able to see the uprisings in the other districts. We’re able to see Gale and the others complete their rescue mission of Peeta, Annie and Johanna. We’re able to see President Snow’s decision to bomb the hospital in District 8 for associating themselves with the mockingjay symbol, which is treason. We’re able to see things that Katniss can’t.

It’s not “all about Katniss”. If this movie had been all about her filming the propos, it certainly would have been a pretty boring movie. In order to split this book into two movies, the filmmakers had no choice but to expand into more perspectives other than Katniss.

One transition of perspectives from Katniss to another district revolting against the Capitol happens when she starts singing “The Hanging Tree”. Anyone, literally anyone, who has seen the movie will probably say that this was the most powerful scene in the whole film. Anyone else is lying or wrong. The song—with words by Suzanne Collins (the author), music by The Lumineers and James Newton Howard, and sung by Jennifer Lawrence (who is later joined by a choir)—is absolutely perfect. I want to see this movie 27 more times just to see that scene again and again and again.

This awesome cast is awesome

Jennifer Lawrence. Woody Harrelson. Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Julianne Moore. Stanley Tucci. What do all these names have in common? Yes, they’re all in Mockingjay, Part 1, but they’ve also all been nominated for or have won Academy Awards. What do you do when you have such an incredibly talented ensemble cast? You expand their roles more.

Take Stanley Tucci for example. He’s become the Barbara Walters (or insert some other famous talk show interviewer here) of Panem as he interviews Peeta time after time. His role of Caesar Flickerman is featured in the movie more than I can remember it being featured in the book.

Or take Effie Trinket. Her plot line was changed significantly from the book to the movie—at the end of the book, she is released from prison when Snow is arrested and helps Katniss prepare for Snow’s trial, but in the movie, she is brought to District 13 right away and takes on a much larger role in the rebellion, despite hating 13’s dress code. Essentially, she takes the place of Fulvia Cardew in the book, which is a very smart decision, because why introduce an entirely new (and very minor) character when you can simply replace her with a character you already know and love?

Julianne Moore is also incredible as President Coin. That speech that she gave at the end of the movie made me want to see Mockingjay, Part 2 right away when the credits started rolling—well that, coupled with seeing the way Peeta greets Katniss after he is rescued. I mean, wow, Josh Hutcherson surely wasn’t in the movie very much (since his character was captured), but he definitely does a superb job with the scenes that he is in!

It’s really difficult to see Phillip Seymour Hoffman. When he first appeared on the screen, my heart stopped beating for a moment. Knowing that this is one of his final movies is simply heartbreaking. He does excellently as Plutarch Heavensbee, as he did in Catching Fire. Once again, he will be missed.

Woody Harrelson is awesome, but then, he’s always awesome. He makes me chuckle in nearly every scene he’s in, but the scene where he explains to everyone that you need to let Katniss be Katniss (“Let Bartlet be Bartlet”, anyone?) is truly comedy gold. And then there’s that goddess Natalie Dormer. What can I say? She’s a spectacular Cressida. Also, Donald Sutherland is chilling, as usual, as Snow.

Finally, of course, there’s Jennifer Lawrence. She—ugh—she just delivers. This movie—these movies—wouldn’t be nearly as successful as they are if they didn’t have the perfect Katniss. And they do. Jennifer Lawrence is the perfect Katniss. The opening scenes, as she tries to maintain a secure hold on her sanity, were gut-wrenching. When she confronts Plutarch and Coin with her conditions: also great. When she tries to film the propos with too much direction and not enough improvisation: pure comedic genius.

In conclusion

I could say so much more about this movie, but I feel as though another viewing would be necessary in order to do that; however, that is something that I am not planning on doing. I am so unfathomably stoked to see The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies tomorrow, and I knew that I needed to finally write this review (I’m sorry it took so long!) before I saw another movie.

What did you think about Mockingjay, Part 1? Feel free to share your opinions below!