Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2

Perhaps I have spent too much time thinking about the fate of Katniss Everdeen this last year, but my feelings on the closing chapter of The Hunger Games saga have me at a strange juncture.  The final minutes (spoilers to come) leave me with a keen sense of betrayal, though til this point I am surprised only by the film's sudden interest in elision.  The franchise had been, to this point, partially remarkable because of the time it spent with its characters and its interest developing a functional logic for its dystopian world. It's a patience I've appreciated, as there's something to be said for a teen-oriented action film that seems to specialize in remaining still.  In Mockingjay, Part 2, that stillness has not gone, but it does feel as though it is now being used to avoid necessary developments of other kinds.  It's not a calm so much as - suddenly - a refusal to continue a psychological investigation or to to succumb to commonly used montage sequences.  So it is that we don't see Katniss prepare for her military stint, or we don't see the carnage she actually has a hand in inflicting, or we don't see the years she suffers an understandable PTSD.

It could be that this material is meant to be inferred, but to do so is not productive. Now what we know is only a moral righteousness, a common good, an acquiescence to a black or white acceptance of situations instead of - say - the real grey areas that haunt Katniss. She is a broken, angry figure, and one I love because of that, and because she marks an interesting turn for female action heroines. She is still these things, but something here isn't quite right.  There's a distance, perhaps an exhaustion on the part of Jennifer Lawrence or a misunderstanding between the studio's vision of the franchise and the work done by the novels.  The result is that something has shifted.  We have too much love story, not enough war; too much questing, not enough psychology.  And in the last seconds?  When Katniss Everdeen sits at a pastoral picnic, holding a baby like a foreign object? There's little that rings more false.  But, again, this may be because I have thought too much about Katniss and her role up to this point, about her violence and its impact, about the narrative elements she has been given and denied.
As simple entertainment, the film does its job. It closes the circuit, gives the viewer their cathartic payoff, and provides one final gauntlet of challenges for our beloved characters to overcome. It's consistent in tone, but not quite in spirit, and if it feels disappointing, it's not because of anything tangible in the celluloid world.  It's that other thing, that gnawing thing, the thing you thought you knew and spiritually understood about it.  And though you may find it lackluster, the franchise stands strong until its last moments.  The films are important.  They mark, hopefully, a type of sea change, and with that perhaps we should have expected the tepid last act.

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