Story Theater Movie of the Week for Dec. 19-21

Staff Writer
Story City Herald
Story Theater Movie of the Week for Dec. 19-21

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 (rated PG-13 for violence and adult situations; and with a running time of 125 min.) is the highly-anticipated third installment of the blockbuster phenomenon that blazed across movie screens around the globe. The story now accelerates to new, exhilarating levels as the futuristic chronicle of Katniss Everdeen enters into a new realm. The Games may have been obliterated for good, but the fight to survive is about to intensify. Faced with the most daunting odds - and watched by the eyes of a hopeful nation - Katniss must put into motion courage, strength and empowerment against the all-powerful Capitol. This is the moment when she realizes she has no choice but to open her wings and fully embody the Mockingjay symbol. If only to save Peeta, she must become a leader.

The story begins again as Katniss has just been rescued from the destruction of the Quarter Quell. She awakens in a shocking world she didn’t even know existed: the deep, dark underground of supposedly annihilated District 13. She quickly learns of the devastating reality she must face: District 12 has been turned to rubble; and Peeta is being held, manipulated and brainwashed by President Snow in The Capitol. At the same time, Katniss’s eyes are opened to a secret rebellion rapidly spreading from District 13 throughout all of Panem - a rebellion that will place her at the center of a daring plot to hack into The Capitol and turn the tables on President Snow.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 dives further into the fabric of Panem and into the story’s most powerful emotions as Katniss and the nation enter a harrowing but transformative time. Explains returning director Francis Lawrence: “Emotionally, Katniss is like a foreigner in a strange land as this story begins. This is the time when she realizes she can’t stand by and do nothing. There has been too much deception and the people Katniss loves are in danger. She will do whatever it takes to keep them safe.”

The director continues: “The stakes have always been high in The Hunger Games but now the entire world opens up. The Games themselves are gone, but threat of oppression now permeates all of Panem. This chapter gave us a chance to reveal entirely new locations with amazing action sequences. It’s a gigantic movie.”

In her third and most poignant turn as Katniss, Academy Award winner Jennifer Lawrence relished the chance to portray the character at this heightened juncture as she emerges from distress to take her first steps into leadership. “I was excited for Katniss to come into her own as a leader, but she’s still a very reluctant hero,” Lawrence observes. “In the first movie she wanted to save her family. In the second, she tried to save her friends and herself. Now, she starts to realize the impact she has on the wider world and that she has a choice to lead this battle for what is right.”

That choice does not come easily for Katniss, who recoils at nearly every element of her new life: the militaristic order of District 13, the pressure to perform on cue, and the heart-wrenching reality of war. Katniss remains hopeful that becoming the Mockingjay might truly change things. “As an actor, the challenge was having Katniss wake up in a brand new environment, where she has to rebuild herself from nothing. Katniss has not only left behind her old life as a District 12 victor, she has entered a world unlike any other. Says Lawrence: “She has to get used to a new way of life in District 13. Everything is deeply unfamiliar and it’s all underground, so she can’t even go outside or hunt.”

Lawrence continues about approaching Katniss: “She felt almost like an entirely different character because she is so stripped down and feeling so empty. It’s something that truly does happen to people after traumatic events like she’s been through. Katniss still has the same core, but she’s in a completely different place inside and out.”

As Katniss takes on the public role of the Mockingjay, she is asked by President Coin [Julianne Moore] to appear in a series of “propos” - viral propaganda videos that District 13 uses to communicate with and inspire rebels across Panem.

“She goes into the propos feeling like a pawn, like the Mockingjay is just a symbol she’s not connected to or passionate about,” Lawrence says. “The whole idea of the propos is to get people fired up, to band together - so Katniss faking at being something that she’s not doesn’t work. It’s only when she sees the human cost in District 8 that a true spark is ignited. The more she sees, the more it becomes a personal fight for her.”

Lawrence was thrilled to have the opportunity to work with Julianne Moore in the role of President Coin. “When I heard she was going to play Coin, it was the most exciting, unbelievable news in the world. I think Julianne is one of the greatest actresses of all time, just absolutely phenomenal. She was even more impressive in person. She is such a sweet family woman and also hilarious. Working with her was a dream come true.”

While Lawrence and Moore got along, their characters have a cool tension between them. “Their relationship is complicated. They share similar ideals, but with all she’s been through, Katniss feels she cannot fully trust her,” Lawrence comments. “President Coin can see how important Katniss is to leading this rebellion, but she also doesn’t believe Katniss can actually do it. She’s still suffering from post-traumatic stress and President Coin is skeptical that using Katniss is something that she can actually control.”

Also rewarding to Lawrence was the chance for deeper interaction with Liam Hemsworth as Gale, who remains Katniss’s devoted friend and strongest link to her past. “Katniss and Gale have such a rich history,” she acknowledges. “There are so many complexities to it because before Katniss went into the Games, Gale was the only person who really understood her. Following the games, she and Peeta had this experience together that no one else, including Gale, could ever understand. She and Gale are in a very interesting place and it was nice to explore more of that.”

For Francis, one of the highlights of the entire Hunger Games series has been watching Jennifer take Katniss through a vast range of experiences, each one internalized into a character who is now thick with many layers. “It’s incredibly complex to track somebody who is going through so much emotionally,” he says. “Katniss has incurred a lot of damage, and now here she is trying to figure out where she stands in the world, whether or not she trusts the people in District 13, and whether she wants the responsibility of becoming a part of the rebellion. Jen has done the most amazing job with every nuance.”

In thinking about Katniss and reflecting on one of her favorite scenes, producer Nina Jacobson notes: “When Katniss goes to District 8 and says, ‘If we burn, you burn with us,’ for the first time she sees the impact that she has on people. Those moments - where Katniss owns what and who she is - really give me the chills.”

Jacobson says the films biggest astonishment may be how emotionally resonant it is - not just because the story is entering a time of war, with all its accompanying sorrow for the lost and hopes for the future, but because it is also a time when Katniss must change faster than ever. “It’s a very tense and powerful story and the emotions on screen are surprisingly deep,” concludes the producer. “It takes you to places you will not expect to be taken. It’s provocative, thoughtful and up to the last minutes of the film, the way it unfolds is shocking.”

“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 is such a fantastic epic,” she summarizes. “This part of the story is important to tell — about how powerful a person’s voice can be. It is always easier to follow the person in front of you, but I think we all have a Mockingjay in us. We all have the ability to make a stand and do the right thing.”

—taken from the production notes of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, courtesy of Lionsgate Films