Synopsis: Katniss Everdeen survived the sadistic Hunger Games twice, unwittingly lighting the spark of revolution along the way. The Capitol’s President has responded to every slight challenge with violence or the threat thereof, finally culminating in the complete destruction of a district. Now Katniss, still reeling from the deaths and the capture of several of her friends, must become the face of the revolution. Because everyone is already looking to her.
Just in time for the release of the final movie in the Hunger Games saga, I watch the third one. I unfortunately missed it during its theater run, but I intend to not do that with this one.
As I started wondering back when Divergent came out, I’ll never know if my reaction to these movies would have been different if I’d never read the books. I’ll never know if there are things that come across differently because I take for granted knowing things that perhaps never become clear in the movies. I’m tempted to say no, because of the response this franchise is getting. But honestly, watching this, I don’t care what is responsible for this experience. This is amazing, and this is powerful. Not particularly action-packed, but it doesn’t need to be. That isn’t what they’re doing here. This is more about…how Katniss goes on, stumbling but never stopping.
I can’t say I’m not still somewhat skeptical about the decision to split the movie into two parts–it does kind of disrupt the flow. But on the other hand, there was enough to work with here, to keep it interesting and engaging.
The first movie consisted of Katniss surviving in a staged arena designed to kill contestants. It just sparked the anger of being forced into these circumstances in the first place, stemmed from the helplessness and lack of power of all of the tributes. The second movie was about resistance, about inspiring people to move from powerlessness to action. And the third movie is about revolution.
What’s immediately striking as the movie opens is that, much like the rest of the series, it isn’t glorifying the characters’ experience. All of the things that these people have gone through have left their mark. Katniss is still having nightmares, Finnick is miserable. The psychological toll is showing. And hell, why wouldn’t it? Katniss has been in an arena where everything and everyone in it has been trying to kill her twice. Her home has been destroyed. And one of her closest friends, who’s been with her through her whole ordeal so far, is captured and possibly dead.
But perhaps after watching so many superhero flicks, I really appreciate that we can side with the characters, and want them to win, while the story makes absolutely clear that no one should ever want to trade places with them.
This isn’t just about people leading and inspiring and succeeding. Katniss and company are trying to keep together the shattered pieces of their world, and the shattered pieces of themselves. Even in their triumphs, they’re not exactly flush with victory. There’s this hollowness behind any sense of satisfaction that might come with a success. Jennifer Lawrence especially sells a sense of disconnect in Katniss between what she’s doing and where she is mentally. There are times that, when Katniss isn’t being passionate or angry, when she’s not caught up in the moment, there’s almost a sense of numbness to her. Finnick, who’s as good for this as Katniss, often has a sadness to him. It’s way more emotionally touching for me to see these characters struggle and yet not quite see themselves in that struggle.
Because the revolution is really a means to an end for Katniss. All she really wants is for the people she cares about to be safe. And sometimes, when she looks at the people around her who she’s fighting with, it’s like she feels that she isn’t one of them. That she doesn’t feel what they feel. That she’s seen too much and done too much to ever have things be that straightforward for her.
The focus of the movie is a revolution against an oppressive regime, and it’s clear why it has to happen. We saw the first movie, where this society made sport out of child murder. We’ve seen Snow commit several atrocities to squelch any dissonance. The people of the districts were pushed into fighting back the only way left to them. And yet, there’s still a cost to the violence.
At some point, fighting back became a better option for the districts than keeping their heads down and accepting their treatment. But they didn’t have a good option, only a bad one and a worse one. Choosing to fight still meant they’d suffer, and they would die, all in the hope of something better. In a future they may or may not live to see. And this movie doesn’t just show us victory and progress, it shows us the losses and the consequences. Just because something is necessary doesn’t mean there’s any glory in it.
Meanwhile, Katniss and Finnick demonstrate the costs of being thrust into violence. Of having any sense of safety taken away from you. Of losing people again and again. This is what makes this movie so powerful. It focuses on the characters, and on their pain. It focuses on the connection that the protagonists make with others and with each other. It makes that feeling of loss personal.
This movie was plenty powerful without the action, carried by Katniss’ emotional journey.