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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 is the penultimate and most political installment to date in the four-part adaptation of Suzanne Collins' best-selling dystopian trilogy. Rather than surviving an ultraviolent reality competition, the storyline (which was divisive among readers) is about starting a revolution and taking down the Capitol. While there's much less hand-to-hand fighting -- and no kids killing kids -- the violence can still be intense and upsetting (Katniss spends a big portion of the film crying), with shots of skeletal remains, dead and severely wounded citizens, the execution of traitors to the Capitol, the bombing of District 13, the burning of a makeshift hospital, and more. Fans of the book may remember that although Katniss is preoccupied with Peeta in the first half of Mockingjay, there's little romance except for a brief kiss with Gale and a reunion kiss between two other characters. Even more than the previous films, Mockingjay is full of compelling talking points about media, war, socialism, tyranny, women's roles, and the idea that people need a symbol, to rally around and have faith in during difficult times.
What's the story?
At the end of Catching Fire, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) fired an arrow right into the heart of the Capitol by destroying the Arena. In MOCKINGJAY, PART 1, she wakes up disoriented in the secret, underground District 13, which is led by President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore). Distraught that President Snow (Donald Sutherland) has taken Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) hostage, Katniss agrees to become the symbolic face of the rebellion once President Coin promises to rescue and pardon Peeta and two other surviving Victors. Plutarch (the late Philip Seymour Hoffman) arranges for director Cressida (Natalie Dormer) to shoot a series of propaganda videos starring Katniss in full Mockingjay mode. As she visits the other rebelling Districts and her own decimated District 12, Katniss realizes the Capitol must be destroyed -- but not until Peeta is safe from Snow's pathological control.
Is it any good?
There's a dark, melancholy tone to this movie, but it matches Katniss' state of mind. She's borderline despondent over Peeta's capture and frightened of President Snow's psychological terror campaign against her. She's not the Girl on Fire of the Games; she must become the real heroine of the revolution. Director Francis Lawrence continues to prove his commitment to making adaptations that are faithful to the spirit of the source material while also introducing changes to enhance the visual and emotional experience for movie-goers who haven't read the books. It was unclear how Mockingjay would work, being divided in two, but the movie succeeds in capturing Katniss' emotional volatility as she goes from Hunger Games Victor to revolutionary symbol -- even if that means it feels like not much happens in this installment compared to the first two films.
As Snow icily tells Katniss, love can destroy you -- and, in this case, Katniss' singular focus on Peeta consumes her to the point of distraction and instability. Lawrence is such a gifted actress that it seems completely authentic that a post-traumatic 17-year-old girl would care more about the one person who kept her sane in her darkest moments in the Arena than she would about furthering Coin's mission (and what a perfect job Moore does of playing the calculating leader). Liam Hemsworth does Gale justice, showing how the intelligent young man is in his element with the rebels of District 13 but also that he loves Katniss so much that he'd be willing to risk his life to save his rival for her affections. Hutcherson isn't on screen all that much compared to the first two films, but when he is, you can't take your eyes off his transformation from the charismatic Boy with the Bread into a starved, wild-eyed hostage. This isn't the sequel you'll want to rewatch again and again, but it does set things up for the final film, when Katniss will have to lead not just the stirrings of rebellion but an actual war.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the political themes in Mockingjay. How does President Coin compare to President Snow? How are their visions for Panem different? What does Katniss want for the people of Panem? Katniss spends a lot of time narrowly focused on Peeta's welfare. Is this believable? How do her relationships change in this installment? How is she different?
Why is media and messaging so important to the District 13 cause? What does Plutarch mean when he says Peeta is being used as a symbol, just like Katniss? Do the "propos" capture Katniss' real feelings despite being produced?
Those who are familiar with the book: What did you think of the changes the director and screenwriter made? Did you like where the filmmakers chose to end the first volume?
- In theaters: November 21, 2014
- On DVD or streaming: March 6, 2015
- Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth
- Director: Francis Lawrence
- Studio: Lionsgate
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Topics: Book Characters, Great Girl Role Models
- Character Strengths: Courage, Perseverance, Self-control
- Run time: 123 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: intense sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images and thematic material
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