When the decision to split the final installment of The Hunger Games into two films was announced, I was torn over my own feelings of whether it could actually work.
On one hand, Mockingjay is the densest book out of the trilogy both in sheer number of pages and in content — and let’s be blunt: a five-hour film is just not realistic. On the other, momentum and pacing are crucial where the visual medium of storytelling is concerned, and cutting the text into two parts makes it easy to lose the immediacy of the experience. How do you leave off after all, when the story hits a certain point of emotional charge and then hope to regain that set-up by offering the second half of it a year after without feeling shortchanged.
After spending last Saturday at the cinema, I think I have my answer.
For those unfamiliar, The Hunger Games is a young adult series published by Scholastic between 2008 and 2010. It follows the story of Katniss Everdeen, a teenager thrown in a grim take on survival reality television where only the winner gets to go home.
In 2011, Lionsgate Entertainment acquired the rights to adapt the series into a set of feature films projected to hit theaters yearly between 2012 and 2015. The fourth and final installment of that series — dubbed Mockingjay: Part 2 — wraps up the journey with an almost nostalgic kind of closure through the introductuon of yellow hues in an attempt to evoke nostalgia. Couple this with hints of post-war motifs, and you get a distinct shift away from Collins’ originally bleak and uncertain epilogue.
One of the things that’s always struck me about the treatment of the films is the use of color not just in terms of setting mood and tone; but in how it also serves to emphasize the difference between belonging to the districts (where you have the muted, earthy hues that evoke a life of hardship) versus life in the Capitol (where all things are bright, shiny and brought to you in HD). We see this best in the first two films, where color heightens the overall sense of off-camera and on-camera.
In Mockingjay however, the stark relief of whites, cool blues and grays appear to bleed into everything, washing all the color out. Harsh lighting sharpens angles and otherwise bright colors give off a quality that just feels dead — or are well on their way to getting there.
You could almost say that it underscores what viewers already know: this is a world at war, where casualties are imminent, and everything you love and care for are no closer to safe than the next district due to be bombed.
Interestingly enough, the first time any real color “pops” in earnest, we find ourselves at a wedding. Here the hues shift to warm gold tones that offer a hint of hope amidst all the destruction. A picturesque moment that you can to hold onto, provided you manage to make it out alive.
That same gold hue sneaks in gradually and subtly after that. I found it prevalent especially in scenes where there were reminders of hope or remembrance. The specific one that stands out to me would be when Katniss offers Peeta a bit of information that only a real friend could have known: “Orange,” she tells him somberly, “your favorite color is orange — like the sunset.”
It’s a color that gains momentum even after we see Katniss put an end to the cycle of the games: from the round table vote with President Coin to the lighting of the cell where Haymitch reads out Plutarch’s letter. It’s there in the in the primrose flower that Peeta plants in the garden outside her home in the Victor’s Village, a small, bright remembrance not just of Prim, who it was intended for, but for all the children lost in the crossfire.
It honestly feels, if you’ll excuse the phrase, like those Kodak moments — the ones you attempt to cherish for as long as you still have the photographs, even after time has yellowed the once-bright images with age. It’s reflective, particularly when you consider that this film didn’t have just one ending, but multiple ones seeming to reinforce an underlying message of hope after all the tragedy and loss; of something worth living for because it means you endured and earned your peace.
This brings me back then to what’s stayed with me since I stepped out of that theatre, and why I have spoken to and find myself still itching to speak to other viewers of how they felt about Mockingjay. As a fan of the books who (full disclosure time) felt unsatisfied with the way the final novel closed, I’ve caught myself asking how the film has managed to leave me with an actual sense of closure where the book did not; that Katniss and the surviving victors finally get to put the arena behind them.
When quoted on where she got the idea for Hunger Games, Collins’ said she was channel surfing and found herself between actual war footage on the news and a reality show. “I was really tired,” Collins said, “and the lines between these stories started to blur in a very unsettling way.” Collins’ own father was a veteran of Vietnam, and the author has been quoted in various interviews to say that the experience of growing up with him has shaped her stance on the role of media on the desensitization of violence.
The shift in tone for Mockingjay’s ending raises questions and possible discourse, especially when one takes into account that film these days has such a wide reach towards audiences that would otherwise not take up the novels because the genre of Young Adult has limitations of its own.
I guess it is apt then, that the catchphrase that lingers long after you step away from the film encapsulates what we, as generation where media plays such a huge role on life as we know it, can ask: “Real or not real?”
That’s something worth thinking and talking about.
I give the movie 4 stars out 5. It’s a really satisfying watch, and well worth the money.
Mockingjay: Part 2 is now showing in theatres. Photos used are credited to Comingsoon.net.