Let’s talk about Mockingjay.

At the risk of losing all my friends, I have something to say.

I love Mockingjay.

Honestly. It’s the best book in the series, hands down. I know that’s a very uncommon, possibly unpopular opinion to have, but it’s what I think, and I would like to address some of the common complaints about Mockingjay before I move on to the movie Mockingjay Part II. There will be spoilers. This is your alert.

The grievance I hear most often is about Katniss’s attitude. People accuse her of being whiny, ineffective, and childish, and I will concede that she certainly is at times. However, I would like to remind readers of the events of the first two books, starting with the death of her father and ending with one of the only people she cares about being abducted and probably (definitely) tortured by her worst enemies. Now I ask you, would you handle things any better?

I think probably not. I certainly wouldn’t. In fact, whiny Katniss is one of the reasons I love Mockingjay so much. Instead of a heroically stoic protagonist who is willing to compartmentalize all of his or her suffering for the greater good, we follow a heroine who actually acts like a human being. PTSD is for real, and for Katniss to do what she does having seen what she’s seen is miraculous.

The other big complaint I hear about Mockingjay is the ending. Specifically that it is too depressing. Which it totally is, but that’s okay because it’s realistic and honest. It’s nice to think that after a devastating war everyone will go home to sunshine and smiles, but that’s not how the world works. Like I said before, PTSD is for real, and Suzanne Collin’s characters have seen some shit. It’s important to note that Katniss eventually does get her sunshine and smiles, but it’s a journey that doesn’t end with the war. She has to work for it and it’s not flawless, but she still finds peace (and Team Peeta wins, which is what really matters.) This is realistic, and in its adherence to the sometimes crappy real world, the novel gains credibility by its sheer honesty.

So yes, Mockingjay is my favorite novel and I like the last half better than the first. Logically, that would mean my favorite movie in the series is Mockingjay Part II, right?

Sadly, no. It’s now my turn to complain about Mockingjay, and believe me, I’m not happy about it. Credit where credit is due though, the lizard mutts were so much worse than I thought they could be and the suspense leading up to them was flawless. I also think they portrayed the aftermath of Prim’s death perfectly: She didn’t need a significant, drawn-out death scene for her loss to make an impact; in fact, the brief and chaotic moment of her death was a perfect image of how Katniss would have experienced it. Instead, her death is felt through private, honest moments of emotion– between Katniss and her mother, the scene with Buttercup, the flowers Peeta planted. There really was no better way to do it.

Unfortunately, these moments were also anomalies. As it turns out, my biggest complaint about this movie is almost identical to the reason I’m still mad at Starz for the Outlander season finale, but I won’t go into that because the majority of my readers probably aren’t interested in the parallels I could draw. The point is that Peeta went through some really terrible things, and his path to recovery was a prominent and important story arc that directly impacts the resolution. Regrettably, the movie adaptation watered it down to near irrelevance.

Trust me, I completely understand the challenge of time faced by movies and television. Books have the luxury of complexity, but film can’t take a moment to directly speak to the audience about what’s going on and why, nor can it be ten hours long. They have to prioritize and let go of certain details, some of which are insignificant and some of which are certainly not. Peeta’s recovery is in the latter category.

Maybe it’s just because I’m a psychology nerd, but I find the concept of complete mental destruction and the subsequent recovery to a point of familiarity, if not normalcy, very fascinating. Additionally, it’s unspeakably important to the resolution– Katniss wouldn’t fall in love and have children with someone who was still fighting with the programmed urge to kill her, and after the build up in part one and the few (read: one) scenes in the beginning of part two, the watered-down healing process just does not add up. The recovery Peeta underwent didn’t feel like enough to heal the torture we were shown.

You may have caught in the previous paragraph some dissent regarding the brevity of the beginning of the movie. Certainly Katniss’s time on Squad 451 was exciting, interesting, and integral to the plot, and I can definitely understand why they’d want to spend as much time on it as possible. I also understand cutting the ending in order to fit all of Squad 451. I wish they didn’t have to, but I can accept it. What I have a harder time accepting is whittling down Johanna’s role to almost nothing.

Again, the issue of time is not lost on me. It’s our biggest complaint as an audience time and time again and it’s incredibly difficult to find a compromise between an appropriately lengthed movie and accuracy to the book. But cutting Johanna was not the best answer.

Granted, I might be a little biased because she’s one of my favorite characters. However, her training with Katniss led to some serious character development, both on an individual level and an interpersonal one. Their relationship changed for the better, Johanna proved her strength and determination, and Katniss learned how to be part of a team. Even if we decide Johanna isn’t a significant enough character to follow, this story arc has a definite impact on Katniss that changes how she interacts with Squad 451, and we lost that in the film.

I understand that I might not be the most objective person to offer a critique of Mockingjay the book and Mockingjay Part II the movie. My adoration for the former may have made me overly critical of the latter, but they’re both worth talking about and I want to discuss it. Let me know what you think of the book and/or the movie in the comments and I promise not to resort to name-calling.

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2 thoughts on “Let’s talk about Mockingjay.

  1. That was the best analysis that I have ever seen. It is also the reason I have avoided watching the movies (after Hunger Games). I loved the books, and didn’t see how they would ever be able to handle the emotional issues that all the characters struggled through during the last “trimester” of the story. The first one handled it well enough, but maybe because I filled in the gaps on my own after reading the book.

    And I agree, if they minimized Johanna in the movie then the last trimester lost a major part of the reason Katniss survived and was able to regain a meaningful life.

    Like

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