I just saw a jet black anti-war movie that was actively trying to make the audience use their critical thinking skills. Surprisingly it was also a tent-pole Hollywood film that was directed at “younger” viewers, even though by now most people know that the series it was from can engage people of any age. It was the latest in the Hunger Games movies, Mockingjay – Part 1.
I think this is a movie that will have real staying power as every aspect of it is masterfully done, even if some audience members won’t know what to make of it. (Like the book, this third entry in the series is different in feel than the first two.) I read some of the audience reviews online and I wasn’t surprised to find many people disappointed as this movie does not jump through the hoops that most have come to expect from modern Hollywood. This movie is extremely engaging, but it is not light entertainment. One of my favorite movies is Apocalypto. Even though that brilliant movie is way more explicitly violent, this movie might be darker. (And that is saying something!) Other than a few laughs by supporting characters and one early scene of traditional action, this movie never tries to make you feel good about what you are seeing.
What you are seeing in this fully realized world is a very powerful anti-war movie. It is also a critique of our media saturated super-capitalistic age of endless war. Now what this movie does brilliantly is that, even though it is highly critical of the society that we see around us, it never draws conclusions for the viewer. It is one of those rare movies that makes the viewer do the heavy lifting.
While the movie is extremely anti-war, it is not easily described as a leftwing or rightwing movie. The hero, as anyone that has seen any of the movies or read the books will know, is a character called Katniss Everdeen that is often seen hunting and comes from a place that resembles Appalachia. She could easily be from red-state America, except that other aspects of her personality don’t fit neatly into that or any stereotype. The place where her arch-nemisis President Snow is from is called the Capitol. As in the books, one could easily view it as being big-government or big-business in the way that it is represented. But either way, the viewer or reader would be missing the point. It is simply a place where wealth and power coalesce. The Capitol is a place where the citizens live lives of deluded splendor that comes at the expense of the other areas that it rules. These movies are not anti-government or anti-corporations in the modern sense, so much as they are anti abusive power and exploitive wealth. The people that you root for most of all are ordinary individuals that are caught up in the machinations of an abusive system. Probably the most one-dimensional character in the movie is President Snow, the leader of the Capitol. He comes the closest to being a symbol, one that simply uses wealth and power to control others. He is a facist, a representation of that collusion of business and government. (So yes, the movie is anti rightwing if the kind of right you are describing is facism, but this is still simplifying things a bit.)
Although I think this movie might be too scary for young kids, I think older kids and young teens should definitely see it. (Anything that helps kids open up to critical thinking is good.) It constantly makes you aware of how power uses media to manipulate people. In this movie, even when Katniss is finally in the hands of the rebels, those that are fighting the Capitol, one is made aware of how even those that are on the right side in war use propaganda to manipulate people for their cause. Even though there is no doubt that the rebels are on the right side of events, their actions are still treated with suspicion. You are never allowed to feel completely comfortable when Katniss has to do what the rebels want to further their cause.
The movie is constantly using images that we are all too used to now and makes you question them. At one point the rebels blow up a damn and it is filmed in a way that could have several interpretations. Are the rebels representing terrorists or are they patriots fighting for the good of the people? Again, I think the point of the way scenes like this are filmed is to make YOU think. Not so that any one conclusion is obvious, but so that you will think when you watch the news, which too often draws easy conclusions. If modern media simplifies things, this movie creates complexity.
War is never viewed as anything other than horrific. There is one brief scene where Katniss brings down two enemy fighter planes that are trying to bomb a hospital. This is as closed to traditional action as the movie gets. In the rest of the movie war is viewed as an insane force that destroys societies, nature, and human life.
While watching the movie I was reminded of this section of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals that I posted the other day. The person speaking in quotes is the Secretary of War under Lincoln, Edwin M. Stanton:
“Why is it,” he asked, that military generals “are praised and honored instead of being punished as malefactors?” After all, the work of war is “the making of widows and orphans – the plundering of towns and villages – the exterminating & spoiling of all, making the earth a slaughterhouse.” Though governments might argue war’s necessity to achieve certain objectives, “how much better might they accomplish their ends by some other means?“
There were also scenes in this movie that paid tribute to other great moments of cinema. There is a point in the movie when Katniss, after suffering so much from the violence around her, can no longer hunt when she comes across a Moose. This is very much like a classic scene in the movie The Deer Hunter, one of the best anti-war movies of all time. The final scene Mockingjay Part 1, that I don’t want to give away, reminded me in the way it was shot of a scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey. (In the imagery, not necessarily in what it is trying to communicate.) I’m not trying to say that this movie is the equal of either one of those all-time masterpieces, only that it is full of ideas and imagery that will make you think in multiple ways if you are open to it.
If you want to go to the movies to simply escape and be entertained, this movie might not be for you, although it does create a fully realized world to dive into. (If you are a fan of the series you will want to see this regardless, even if it becomes your least favorite of the series so far, as it again does not adhere to typical Hollywood formulas.) But if you want to see a mass-marketed movie that really does have a lot to offer in terms of imagery and ideas, than I think many of you will find it outstanding. (And trust me, if you think I am overselling the ideas in this movie, go see it and tell me it is just escapism. You won’t be able to whether you like it or not.) There is so much more I could discuss about this movie, but ideas are still bouncing around my head and I’m not even sure how I will come down on certain scenes. It is a subversive movie because it asks the viewer to question what they are seeing in their own life on a daily basis. I don’t know if this movie is excellent or just really good, but that constant questioning is good enough for me.