Warning: The following post contains MAJOR SPOILERS for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay.
Even as the cast and crew of the Hunger Games franchise were busy promoting Catching Fire, they were already in the middle of making the final two films in the series, Mockingjay — Part 1 (out Nov. 21, 2014) and Part 2 (out Nov. 20, 2015).
But if they are not careful, they could be walking into utter catastrophe.
While Suzanne Collins’ novel Mockingjay makes for gripping and compelling reading, as source material for the concluding chapters of a global mega-blockbuster franchise, let’s just say it presents some significant — some might say perilous — storytelling hazards.
Not that the folks making the film exactly feel this way. “It becomes more of a specific two-pronged examination of a society at war, and also of the exploitation of the media and of celebrity,” Jeffrey Wright — who plays the nerdy inventor Beetee — told BuzzFeed earlier this month. “Yeah, it is darker, but I think it becomes even more relevant. I think it becomes less abstract, and much more grounded in issues that we’re all facing as a society at war now.”
Jena Malone, who plays the cynical Johanna Mason, added, “Knowing that it’s actually going to a place that is kind of a little bit more dark, or realistic, or authentic in the sense of the way the film series will end, it allows you to get even more real. It’s not like trying to fit an inauthentic arc into a happy ending.”
And if you were holding out hope that the filmmakers would be significantly changing Collins’ story, let director Francis Lawrence disabuse you of that notion. “The truth is that we’re making the book,” he told BuzzFeed. “We’re not reinventing the book in any way. These people, if they start out damaged in Catching Fire, they’re much more damaged by the beginning of Mockingjay. And the movie does go to dark places. I will say too that part of why I love those is that Suzanne didn’t pull any punches. I’m actually really happy to be doing Mockingjay because of that. I think that’s the book that gives the whole series its meaning.”
While there may not be major changes from the book to the Mockingjay movies, Lawrence did indicate that he was not averse to making some minor tweaks. “There are some new elements to it. I think one of the things is when you experience the movies vs. the book, the books are so inside Katniss’ head; we’re not in Katniss’ head as much,” he said. “We’re not changing the book, and we’re not messing with anything, [but] we are injecting some hope to it, and some warmth to it. And there will be some humor. And there’s some surprises. So there’s different layers that we’re adding to it to make it richer.”
And with that in mind, here is a completely unsolicited catalogue of all of the narrative land mines buried within Mockingjay’s unrelentingly grim story — as well as possible ways of avoiding them.
Needless to say, everything below is riddled with ALL KINDS OF MAJOR SPOILERS that will likely ruin a great deal of the Mockingjay movies and will definitely ruin the final book in Collins’ trilogy if you have yet to read it. Consider yourself warned!
1. Katniss becomes a passive participant in the events around her.
Pretty much from her arrival in District 13 — an almost entirely subterranean society run as a kind of rebel commune by the no-nonsense President Coin (Julianne Moore) — Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) collapses into a paralyzing state of PTSD-driven depression at the loss of Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) to the Capitol. Rather than take an active role in freeing Peeta — or in, really, anything at all — Katniss instead miserably allows herself to become a propaganda puppet of Coin and Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman). For a long stretch of the book, the only time Katniss demonstrates anything close to what one would describe as classic heroic behavior is while visiting a hospital in District 8, and that’s only after it’s attacked by the Capitol.
This is troubling enough in Collins’ book — it’s difficult to sympathize with Katniss as her inner-monologue comes off as increasingly self-involved, as psychologically understandable as it may be. But for a feature film built around an aspirational figure heretofore defined by her willingness to be quite literally the girl on fire, it’s deadly. Everyone remember how unspeakably boring it was to watch Neo, Morpheus, and Trinity sit around in The Matrix Revolutions? Everyone who actually saw that movie, I mean? Yeah. Not good.
Possible solution: Give Katniss more to do, like perhaps lead the team that invades the Capitol to rescue Peeta, Johanna (Jena Malone), and Annie Cresta (Stef Dawson), the fragile beloved who holds the heart of Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin).
2. Finnick, Johanna, and especially Effie are AWOL too.
Finnick and Johanna both have some decent scenes, but for characters who loomed so large in Catching Fire — both the book and the film — their presence in Mockingjay often feels perfunctory.
But that’s nothing in comparison to what happens, or doesn’t happen, to Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) — one of the biggest characters in the entire saga is shunted off to jail offscreen, and only appears in the story at the very end. This would be like the Harry Potter movies suddenly deciding that McGonagall should go to Azkaban for the entirety of The Half-Blood Prince and The Deathly Hallows.
Possible solution: Since the first two films expanded beyond Katniss’ point of view, we could track Effie’s descent into becoming a Capitol pariah, and see what life is like for her without makeup, wigs, and great frocks. As for Finnick and Johanna, like Katniss, they should just be allowed to participate in more of the main story instead of wallow on the sidelines.
3. Peeta is tortured, “hijacked,” and tries to kill Katniss.
While captured by the Capitol, Peeta is trotted out on television to implore Katniss to stop fighting with the rebels. But, while on screen, he manages to warn District 13 of an impeding attack. He screams. There’s blood. And then when Peeta is finally rescued, we learn the Capitol has also brainwashed, or “hijacked,” his mind, specifically to make him hate Katniss so violently that he tries to kill her, multiple times.
That is a potent metaphor for the horrors of war. It is also incredibly grim in a way mass entertainment films are never allowed to be. Imagine for a second Ron choking Hermione, Edward trying to murder Bella, or Tony Stark physically torturing Pepper Potts. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to picture.
Another problem: If the filmmakers leave Katniss’ perspective, we may have to watch Peeta be tortured. No thank you!
Possible solution: There probably isn’t one, given how central this development is to Mockingjay’s entire story. On the upside, it will give Hutcherson much more to do as an actor.
4. Gale ceases to be a romantic interest for Katniss, and they drift apart.
Again, this walks along the razor’s edge of realism — in war, friendships are likely to curdle and fall apart like Gale and Katniss do over the course of Mockingjay. But good grief, after spending two full movies watching Katniss gaze longingly into Gale’s crazy-handsome face, it is just a numbing downer to spend two full movies watching them bicker without ever bothering to talk things out.
Possible solution: Perhaps Katniss could seek out Gale for some comfort, especially if Gale happened to be shirtless. For once.
5. Finnick dies.
This won’t happen until the second film, but it still sucks. And yes, people we love die in war, and yes, Finnick sacrifices himself to save Katniss, Peeta, and the rest of the rebel’s elite Squad 451 that’s infiltrated the Capitol. But it just feels so needless in the book — and not in a way that gives meaning to the meaninglessness of war, more in the way that you want to throw the book across the room.
Possible solution: Give Finnick’s death more meaning, like letting it play some sort of consequential role in turning the tide of the battle, which brings us to another problem…
6. Squad 451’s mission plays zero role in how the war ends.
Katniss is sent into the Capitol with this squad of elite soldiers as part of a propaganda campaign for the rebellion, but they end up in the thick of full-scale urban warfare anyway, contending with lethal booby traps that conspicuously resemble the Hunger Games arena. At no point, however, do their actions have any effect on the outcome of the war. Katniss could have stayed at home, and everything would have still unfolded pretty much as it does.
Possible solution: This one’s easy: Let Katniss and her soldiers help turn the tide of the war, by taking out a bridge, saving a key platoon of soldiers, or blowing up the enemy’s cache of supplies (like Katniss did in The Hunger Games). Yes, war is hell, but soldiers can actually make a real difference.
7. Prim dies, and Gale likely killed her.
Katniss volunteered for the Hunger Games to save Prim’s life. Instead, her actions lead to Prim’s death — a death that was probably made possible by a ruthless battle tactic created by Gale.
On the one hand, a plot twist this unfathomably dark feels like the most subversive thing ever attempted in what is soon to be a billion-dollar franchise. On the other hand, are you flipping kidding?!?
Did I mention that, by this point in the story, Katniss is pretty much addicted to morphling?
Possible solution: Don’t kill Prim!
8. Katniss doesn’t kill President Snow, kills President Coin instead, and then Snow simply dies off screen.
There is a cold logic to Katniss’ actions here. She recognizes that Coin is just as bad as Snow, and if she doesn’t do it, Panem will be no better off than it was before the rebellion. But let’s return to our ongoing thought experiment: At the end of Deathly Hallows, instead of Voldemort, Harry Potter turns his wand on Cornelius Fudge (who, for the sake of argument, is still Minister of Magic), and then Voldemort is just like, “Wow, that’s hilarious. OK, gonna die now.” Not good.
What happens afterward is even worse: Katniss tries to kill herself, goes batcrap crazy, and descends into a state of drug-addled catatonia, which miraculously is enough to clear her of all charges.
Possible solution: If Katniss must kill Coin, let her also kill Snow. And just no with the singing to herself in the nut house and the not bathing. Just. No.
9. Katniss ends up with Peeta, a man who has repeatedly tried to kill her, and disappears to live with him and their children on the ashes of District 12.
No role in helping to rebuild her country. No sense that maybe it’s not the best idea to stay with a man who put his hands to her throat, regardless of whether he was brainwashed or not. And no control even over her long held desire not to have children.
There is a complicated idea tucked within all of this misery, that choosing to violently overthrow a totalitarian regime is itself a destructive act from which there is little hope of fully healing. But it is a mighty thin needle to thread without tipping into self-serious drudgery (like The Matrix Revolutions) or overblown bombast (like Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith).
Possible solution: Francis Lawrence did say “we are injecting some hope to it,” so let’s take that to mean that Katniss forthrightly becomes the new governor of District 12, presiding over a period of peace and prosperity while understanding that her best path to healing and happiness is to leave both Gale and Peeta behind and forge her own future by herself. There. Was that so hard?