The Capitol’s Narrative 2.0 – Mockingjay’s Successful Adaptation

There’s a reason why this article’s coming out now is that after the disappointment of Catching Fire, I didn’t see Mockingjay Part One in theaters. I wish I had seen Mockingjay, because it is by far the strongest adaptation of the three films. Even if the story is very much incomplete, this first part wasn’t the slog I was expecting. This film rectified so many of my complains about these films that I feel a need to post this, just so I can go on record and say that Mockingjay (Part One) nailed its source material.

Here’s the original article on the Hunger Games adaptations. As you can see I like this series a lot, so it was a lovely surprise to see them address the following concerns. Because I have no doubt Lionsgate studio execs read this blog. Although I do know one, and complained about Catching Fire to them… so yeah, I’m taking credit for the turnaround.

The opening twenty minutes to Mockingjay was by far the series’ most effective. While the film didn’t start with Katniss walking through District 12’s ruins, they did provide adequate context for why she was there, and didn’t shy away from this shot:

Pictured: Madge. Likely somewhere. Maybe. Skeleton in the bottom right looks about her size.

This married with Katniss later finding one of Snow’s roses at her house in the Victor’s Village, and the films finally portray Snow as a proper monster. Firebombing District 12 wasn’t to quell any uprising, something Gale later confirms, it was purely sadism on Snow’s part. The fact that the film actually returns to this image further in is appreciated, as they really don’t hesitate from portraying Snow’s violence.

Violence for violence’s sake isn’t interesting, but I always wished these films dared to go to such lengths because it is so vitally important. Snow is an intelligent man, but he is also a monstrous one, and so many of his moves are not strategic but barbarous.

“It runs deeper than the games: the Avox are political prisoners who are taken, have their tongues cut out, and their wills broken before being turned into slaves of the Capitol. The Avox are completely absent from the film, at least the concept of one as they’re relegated to set dressing. The novel goes into detail about the Avox, how they’re a slave caste, how you’re never supposed to acknowledge them unless giving a command, how their voice is literally taken away. If you’re watching the film, you could be mistaken for thinking they’re servants who go home at the end of the night.” – Original Article

If I were nitpicking I’d say that I still wish they went into more detail about the Avox. Lavinia is dead at this point in the timeline though, and doesn’t make an appearance in the novel regardless, so that’s fine.

I didn't even feel bad for applauding a character having their tongue cut out.

Still, it’s about fucking time one of ’em showed up.

Considering the amount of bitching I did about the Avox’s exclusion from the first two films, I’ll take the one sentence explanation of them.That is really all you need to compliment the film’s rightful theme. Listening to Pollux’s (pictured above) brother die is going to be heart-wrenching, as it should be.

As a detail on how Snow destroys people, Pollux works well and his presence primes the audience for the layering on of Snow’s violence that’s to come. From the start Mockingjay gradually adds one after the other, and they even covered types of violence beyond physical.

“Hey speaking rape, let’s talk about forced prostitution! Otherwise known as “You’re never free.” Mockingjay reveals there’s another reason why the tributes are paraded around in front of the wealthy elite of the Capitol, and why those wealthy persons can buy items to help their favourite tribute succeed: Snow sells the victors into sexual servitude. Snow threatens to kill their family (the man has to get off on that, and I really think he does) unless they’re whored out to the wealthy. This is less about making Snow money (of which he has no need) and more about reminding each victor that they will never truly be free.” – Original Article

An adaptation should never strive to copy the original scene for scene, you must play to the strengths of your medium. It’s why I completely accept how they toned down (but not eliminated) Katniss’ PTSD for the film, the majority of her scenes dealing with it in the novel are unfilmable and poison for pacing. That’s why Finnick’s portrayal is so strong. He is clearly suffering beyond what Katniss is, and this allows the audience to see the trauma the victors live with. The nightmares, shaking, thousand-mile stare, all of this Finnick displays in some way.

I was not expecting this.

I’m happy they cast an outrageously handsome actor to play Finnick. Not that they wouldn’t, but I’m still appreciative.

One of my favourite scenes in the novel is when Finnick broadcasts to Panem the extent of Snow’s hate. In it he explains how the games never end, the victors are never free, and the way that Snow sells them into prostitution. It could only have come from Finnick, whose remarkable good looks essentially won him his games, likely because there were many waiting at the Capitol to buy him. I was not expecting the PG-13 film to include that scene, and include it almost word for word (I don’t have many copy handy, but I remember the two scenes being nigh identical). Finnick even explains the poison Snow uses, and how he surrounds himself in roses to cover up the smell of blood from sores in his mouth as a result of drinking some himself (and the antidote not being as effective as it should have been). I worried they wouldn’t include the scene, so it was a very pleasant surprise when it happened.

It’s during this scene that the film is able to solidify the core theme in the novels, about how true cruelty isn’t to kill someone, but to destroy everything they are and leave the husk. The two preceding films never did this, and Catching Fire went out of its way at times to ignore it. Whatever my complaints about this film, I felt it was necessary to write how glad I am that they did this.

Something the novels were incapable of showing (as they are first-person narratives) was the raid on the Tribute Centre, and the scene where Boggs, Gale and company explore a laboratory on en route to rescue the victors. You only catch a glimpse of it, but there’s vials of blood, jars with (what appear to be) organs, and various medical implements (some of which could be a lot of fun in the right hands, but likely weren’t in that context). I know the scene was there to give the action movie some action, and to provide a reason for Katniss and Snow to finally connect, that doesn’t change that it was another glimpse at the beast. I liked the inclusion of the scene in general, as Donald Sutherland portrayed Snow with these intense beady little eyes and hateful grin that sells his character.

President Snow: Finally making an appearance in these films.

President Snow: Finally making a real appearance in these films.

One thing I noticed is that Mockingjay features three scenes where someone is performing in some way, interspersed with cuts to action. Finnick’s speech is cut with the raid on the Tribute Centre, Katniss’ song with the District 5 attack, Coin’s speech with Katniss’ discovery of Peeta at the end. All three of which I found to be rather effective. Not the least because the score in each one was good enough that it stood out to me, something that normally only happens when I consider a film in hindsight.

I still have a few complaints about this adaptation, my primary one still being that they never explain what a Mockingjay is. Considering the word comes up in nearly every other sentence, and an entire scene is devouted to them.

Right now it still feels like the process for deciding on what to call Katniss went something like this:

“We need a new name for Katniss! We can’t have the face of our movement named after a swamp potato.”
“How about Mockingjay? Those whistling birds are dope!”
“Perfect! Rue’s death gave me all the feels.”

And at least one guy in District 13 still maintains they should have called her ‘The Moose’ and won’t shut up about it.

The mockingjay itself has been subtly redesigned, now with a pointy beak instead of that strange gourd-like one before. I’ll admit that this complaint is largely because of two things: The story of the mockingjay’s origin, and how it exists in defiance The Capitol’s wishes is the perfect symbol for Katniss. The fact that The Capitol had a tool (jabberjays), had that tool used against them, and then tried to destroy said tool only to have it breed and evolve is a fantastic counter to the novel’s (and this film’s) central theme. The mockingjay beat the Capitol at its own game, and thrived in spite of it.

I also know that personally, seeing one great symbol be forcibly slotted in for a phoenix feels wrong. It’s no secret that the phoenix is an important symbol to me, I do have one tattooed on my chest after all. So I know part of my resistance to the perversion of the mockingjay’s original meaning is in part because it offends my entrenched view of what the two birds symbolize.

Pictured: Mockingjay (with a pointy beak). Not pictured: A goddamn phoenix.

Pictured: A mockingjay (albeit with a pointy beak). Not pictured: A goddamn phoenix.

My second very minor complaint is that Haymitch’s forced sobriety is played for comedy. Now, having him be friendly towards Katniss only because he’s looking for painkillers and have her call him on it was funny. Still I wish they went into how Haymitch won his Quarter Quell, especially now that they’re being bolder in terms of graphic content. Haymitch’s alcoholism consumes him, and after the war he falls back into it again, so to see the film play that for laughs is a disappointment. I suppose that Haymitch is needed comic relief in a film series that has gotten progressively more violent, and on that level I understand the film’s hesitation to include another traumatic element.

Smallest of all is that I realize (a day later) that they never really explained District 13. They say that the war never ended for them, but why the fighting stopped between the Capitol and 13, or the nature of 13’s ongoing conflict was never addressed. I’d like to know what someone who hasn’t read the books thought, as I’m not sure how much actual explanation was in the films due to my familiarity with District 13.

These three complaints weren’t enough to impact my enjoyment of the film, and it really is the strongest adaptation thus far. I was even fine with them taking two hours to tell half a story because they were so successful in rectifying so many of my problems. I do understand why people complain that it was dull, I know a lot of my satisfaction came from the fact that they confidently adapted a novel I enjoyed. It will be interesting to see how they deal with the fact that 80-odd pages of Mockingjay leaning up to the climax is essentially a novelization of Saw. I still have my doubts, but a part of me is looking forward to seeing if they include someone being frozen in place and having their flesh melted off their bones “like candle wax”.

Stray observations:

– Natalie Dormer is in EVERYTHING. She does have the distinction of being the first person to make that half-head shaved look attractive. That said I hope it never catches on more than it has.
– Pollux was really cute, I’m glad he lives.
I want Katniss’ outfit. I want it real bad.  Give me that and a couple of fine blades and I’m set. Lose the sleeves though. Does it come in a tank-top config?
– I liked Mahershala Ali as Boggs, but couldn’t shake how it felt like he’s only there because they killed off Cinna/ the first black guy. Although there is Beetee… Maybe Ali sticks out at me because he was on House of Cards.
– On the subject of casting, I really like Jeffrey Wright as Beetee, and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Havensbee. Hoffman’s death did take me out of the film a bit during his scenes, but that’s to be expected.
– Effie’s in the film, and that’s fine. I’m pretty neutral about it, really. Her scenes were fine.

Finally, there’s Peeta. Tortured, broken, and rebuilt as a weapon to be used against Katniss. The first thing he does after his rescue, is nearly kill her, and the last scene is Katniss watching helplessly as Peeta’s shattered psyche twists in against itself and threatens to destroy him – This is how you end a film about violence, trauma, and the lengths a monster will go to in order to hurt you:

Mockingjay003

Katniss’ reflection over Peeta’s suffering was a little on the nose though.

– Jaydra

 

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