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Review: Hunger Games MockingJay Part 1

"There are strong uncanny similarities  between Joan of Arc and Katniss, in the latest Hunger Games movie installment."

The worldwide phenomenon of The Hunger Games continues to set the world on fire with The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1, which finds Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) in District 13 after she literally shatters the games forever. Under the leadership of President Coin (Julianne Moore) and the advice of her trusted friends, Katniss spreads her wings as she fights to save Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and a nation moved by her courage. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 is directed by Francis Lawrence from a screenplay by Danny Strong and Peter Craig and produced by Nina Jacobson's Color Force in tandem with producer Jon Kilik. The novel on which the film is based is the third in a trilogy written by Suzanne Collins that has over 65 million copies in print in the U.S. alone. Lionsgate presents, a Color Force / Lionsgate production, a Francis Lawrence film.

Centuries ago a young girl became the symbol of a people's desire to throw off their oppressors. She was 17, regularly saw visions and became a great military leader. The English burned her at the stake in 1431, aged 19, but you can see her statue in every second church in France.

Katniss Everdeen, heroine of The Hunger Games Trilogy of novels by Suzanne Collins, owes a fair bit to Jeanne d'Arc, aka Joan of Arc. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is 17 when she volunteers to become a fighter in the annual Hunger Games, in place of her younger sister. The games are held in the Capitol (think Rome 2000 years ago) and they act as a warning and punishment for the 12 districts of Panem, the new North American super-state, after a war that saw the governments of Canada, the USA and Mexico cease to exist.
To remind the impoverished districts who is boss, President Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland) oversees a brutal regime based on repression and entertainment ('panem et circenses' is Latin for 'bread and circuses'). Once a year, each district has to send two tributes, a boy and a girl between 12 and 18, chosen by lottery. These 24 will fight to the death in the televised Hunger Games. There can be only one winner, but Katniss outsmarts the powers. At the end of the first movie, she saved her friend Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), who loves her, by threatening double suicide. In the second movie, Catching Fire, Katniss shattered the status quo by firing an arrow into the roof of the games arena, taking out the power supply of the Capitol and escaping the city.

As the third film begins, revolts have started in many of the districts, but Katniss is very weak and troubled by horrible visions. The rebels are dug in beneath what's left of District 13 – an earlier casualty of President Snow's vengeance. Their leader is the silver-haired and ambitious President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore), an autocrat in the making. Philip Seymour Hoffman, in one of his last roles, has become her strategist, Plutarch Heavensbee. The rebel team now includes Katniss' alcoholic mentor Haymitch played by Woody Harrelson, the comical design queen Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) and Gale (Liam Hemsworth), the boy Katniss really loves. Peeta remains a prisoner in the Capitol. Indeed, they are using him to broadcast quisling messages against the rebellion. Katniss agrees to become the 'mockingjay', a nickname inspired by a genetically mutated bird that has become the symbol of the rebellion. Effie dresses her up to look the part, with a modern version of Joan of Arc's armour. The rebels, who have built their arsenal up over many years, prepare to go to war against the Capitol.

If the arc of the story is as long as Katniss's bow, it is also very modern and extremely brutal for a movie aimed at young girls. Snow has destroyed District 12 and Katniss goes there with a film crew, to walk among the cinders and charred bodies. Nothing happens in these movies without cameras. The revolution is not just televised, it's fought as a battle for control of the airwaves. The games were a circus. Now Katniss has touched off a full-scale war in which she is the chief mascot. Snow can see her every move and his retaliations are calculated for visual impact. He's almost like Hitler with the talent of Hitchcock.

This is where the power resides in this powerful series. Yes, there is the usual teacup storm of romance, a girl caught between two boys, as in the Twilight series, but The Hunger Games offers teenagers a much more important set of questions to ponder. War and propaganda, self-sacrifice and the greater good, symbolism versus reality, political manipulation versus people-power, democracy or autocracy, war or peace. And none of this takes place in a world of enchantment and magic: it's much more brutal than anything they had to deal with in Harry Potter or the Twilight movies. Any kid who watches the news might easily see parallels with the horrible world they are inheriting,  quite like the Syrian rebels.

The series has always been well-directed and well-acted. Francis Lawrence took over as director from Gary Ross, who set the tone in the first film. Lawrence will have directed the next three films when Part 2 arrives next November. Suzanne Collins has collaborated with the screenwriters all along, allowing new characters and plotlines. The young audience knows what to expect from the third instalment, because they've probably read the books, but it is still a confronting movie. We all learn at some point in our lives, mainly from the movies, that war is hell. To put it frank, kids are now learning it that much earlier while many parents are in for some tough questions.

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