Adam B. Vary
Now that Catching Fire is burning up the box office, let’s turn to the potential land mines throughout the plot of Mockingjay. SPOILERS! But first, here is the trailer:
Warning: The following post contains MAJOR SPOILERS for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Possible solution: Perhaps Katniss could seek out Gale for some comfort, especially if Gale happened to be shirtless. For once.
5. Finnick dies.
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.
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.
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?
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