Sunday, November 30, 2014

It is the things we love most that destroy us

If I had to use a single word to describe Mockingjay: Part One, it would be tense.

The opening of the film takes us to the aftermath of District 13's destruction. Katniss has been directly shipped from the games to the underground base where President Coin (Julianne Moore) and Head Gamemaker/rebel commander Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman; R.I.P) recruit her to be the face of the new rebellion. She agrees - on the condition that Coin will pull Peeta and the other tributes out of the Capitol at the earliest opportunity. The remainder of the film revolves around Katniss's role as "The Mockingjay," tracing the impact she spurs in the other districts and in the Capitol.

So, why tense? Humour is offered to us in sparse doses throughout the film. (The Hunger Games movies are not, after all, comedies.) We laugh when Katniss requests that Prim can keep her cat, chortle when the ever-fashionable Effie Trinket complains about having to wear a bland, grey jumpsuit, and smile as we watch Katniss tease her cat with a flashlight.

So, the film does not thrust us into complete darkness. Yet most of Mockingjay: Part One is destruction and dread. Death swamps Katniss as she witnesses the wreckage of District 13 with her own eyes, seeing her home reduced to rubble. We watch her go through anguish as the threat of losing "them both" - Gale and Peeta - becomes increasingly likely towards the end of the film. It's a tense and heavy first half of a movie to watch.

While Mockingjay: Part One concludes with Coin keeping her word, Peeta's return is not quite what Katniss had imagined. We barely get a look at his gaunt, bruised face before he lunges for Katniss's throat and begins what becomes the most chilling scene of the entire film. What more proof is needed of the Capitol's torture tactics once you see how it turns the antithesis of monstrosity - Peeta Mellark - into a monster?

While that remains the most terrifying part of the film, its best scene is, without a doubt, the singing scene. "You want me to sing?" Katniss asks - and off she goes, delivering a rendition of The Hanging Tree that soon morphs into a full-blown choir of rebels who storm the Capitol's dams in a suicide mission to wipe out its electricity; this is how a revolution kicks off! The political roots of the film run deep. Troops keep to their formations in the navy-blue rain, echoing Nazi rigidity and channeling dictatorship vibes. They remind us that the Capitol is unrelenting and headed by the cold and merciless President Snow.

So, the film owes its appeal to its daring themes - but also its characters. Again, Gale emerges as the loyal and stubborn best friend (emphasis on stubborn and friend), Haymitch makes welcome cameos (the sober life does not suit him), doe-eyed Sam Claflin sheds light on the exploits of the Capitol, but of course it is Katniss - or should I say Jennifer Lawrence - who completely robs the spotlight. Katniss is the face of the rebellion just as JLaw is the face of the movie. And, why not? She and Katniss are both bold and unafraid to speak up. (I just wish Katniss wouldn't be so self-effacing.)

Mockingjay: Part One was tense - but it has set the stage for its next half, which I wait for with anticipation.