Magazine | December 22, 2014, Issue

Say You Want a Revolution

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen (Lionsgate)

It’s easy to roll your eyes and groan about Hollywood greed whenever a studio announces that it has to, just has to, split up into multiple parts one of the books being adapted for one of its gazillion-dollar franchises: When the seventh Harry Potter book becomes the seventh and eighth Harry Potter movies; when the Twilight trilogy magically acquires a fourth installment; when Peter Jackson releases (you know it’s coming) The Hobbit: Part 4: Three Hours Wasted Smoking Pipe-Weed with Gandalf.

But sometimes, studio greed can serve the cause of art. The mandate to fill more screen time can be a permission slip to linger over elements of a story that normally wouldn’t find a place in a big-screen treatment, to do something a little more interesting and personal amid all the action set pieces.

So Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy has been a disastrous overexpansion, but his extended-edition versions of the three Lord of the Rings movies included a number of effective grace notes and narrative fleshings out, and the Rings adaptation might have benefited overall if some studio honcho had demanded a two-part Return of the King.

Or again, the penultimate Harry Potter film padded its running time by expanding the stretch of the book where the Harry–Hermione–Ron troika wander and bicker in England’s heaths and forests — and that padding provided a coolly beautiful, genuinely human-scale interlude in a franchise otherwise dominated by pyrotechnics.

Now comes The Hunger Games: Mockingjay: Part I, the first of two movies subdivided out of the final chapter in Suzanne Collins’s immensely popular, grim-as-nails dystopia. And here, too, the division turns out to have advantages. You can tell, of course, that Mockingjay: Part I is something short of a narrative whole, and the ending is about as abrupt as you’d expect from a story that’s been cleaved in two. But Collins’s final novel was a bit of a narrative pudding to begin with: Unlike her first two, it’s organized around a messy rebellion rather than the cleaner (if equally bloody) arc of a single Hunger Games, and that messiness makes the division easier, the narrative compromise less significant.

Meanwhile, the need to fill out a two-hour running time ends up licensing a story that would never be greenlit on its own but that’s true to the best part of Collins’s trilogy — which is the fascinating portrait of how its heroine, Katniss Everdeen, can be a revolution’s instigator and its victim all at once.

That portrait isn’t what draws people to the saga, of course: That honor belongs to the games themselves, the irresistible hook of kids battling to the death while adults look on and cheer. But after the first book finishes, once the initial shock-fascination-horror of the kids-in-the-arena plot wears off, it’s Katniss’s psychology rather than the (not always plausible) dystopian backdrop that makes the series worth finishing. And it’s their focus on that psychology — and of course the work of Jennifer Lawrence, consistently earning her stardom — that makes these movie adaptations among the best that our era of multipart blockbusters has produced.

In Mockingjay: Part I, that focus takes the form of an extended depiction of propaganda-making, in which Katniss finds herself recruited to play Joan of Arc for the politicians (notably Julianne Moore as the chilly President Alma Coin) who run District 13, the hidden refuge that’s trying to organize and channel the rebellion against the brutal Capitol and its villainous President Snow (Donald Sutherland). We see that rebellion’s actual battles now and then, and the movie culminates with a rescue attempt aimed at liberating Katniss’s maybe-love-interest Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) from the Capitol’s clutches. But all of the action is secondary, and Katniss herself barely participates; what she does, instead, is hopscotch from battlefields to bombed-out ruins, trailed by a film crew (headed by Natalie Dormer as a tattooed documentarian) charged with capturing her emotional reactions to carnage, goading her into speechifying on the scene, and turning the results into wartime movies for the cause.

Those finished products duel, for a while, with the propaganda that the imprisoned Peeta has been tortured or otherwise forced into making — one-on-one interviews with the Capitol’s sinister, insinuating TV impresario Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci), in which Peeta appeals for calm and peace and suggests that Katniss is being used by the rebels for ends she doesn’t understand. His claims, the movie strongly suggests, are at once false and true: false in their moral equivalence between the absolute evil of Snow’s Capitol and whatever alternative Coin’s District 13 would offer, but true to the reality that Katniss isn’t really the mistress of her fate, and that even necessary revolutions can compromise the humanity of the people involved in making them.

To say more would be to give away details from the looming Part II. So suffice it to say that what Part I delivers — an imperfect entertainment, yes, but one that’s deeply faithful to Collins’s cold-eyed look at what a revolution really means — makes me hopeful that this series, so effective across its first three movies, will finish well, and dark, and true.

In This Issue


Politics & Policy

The New Overseer

In October of 1990, Senator Alan Simpson, the Republican whip, emerged from an all-night negotiating session with his House counterparts on a series of clean-air regulations. What insights had he ...
Politics & Policy

Five Kinds of Diversity

Recently, Students for Fair Admissions, a new nonprofit organization, filed a lawsuit alleging that Harvard University discriminates against Asian-American applicants. Every year, Harvard admits roughly the same proportion of white, ...


Books, Arts & Manners

Politics & Policy

High Culture vs. Justice

Alexander Lee’s well-researched, nicely written, pleasantly illustrated book on the Italian Renaissance — especially the Florentine Renaissance — makes a very useful if not very original argument: The glorious products ...


Politics & Policy


Daft? Partly In the December 8 issue, Henry Olsen (“A Victory to Last”) attributes the Republicans’ losses in the 1948 election to their passage of the Taft-Hartley Act the previous year. ...
Politics & Policy

The Week

‐ Doesn’t Al Sharpton realize that all the government spending he advocates will only increase his taxes? Oh, wait . . . ‐ Some of us tried to warn the Obama ...

A Regular Riot

I lived in a D.C. neighborhood that experienced a spontaneous civilian-assisted property-redistribution episode, a.k.a. a riot. In the fall of 1991, a black female cop shot a Hispanic male, an ...
The Long View

The December 2014 SkyMall Catalogue

From Pages 12–18 of the December 2014  SkyMall™ Catalogue Holiday Gifts for the Congressional Staffer in Your Life! *     *     * The NoRegrets™ mobile-phone case slips easily on your iPhone or Samsung Galaxy ...
Politics & Policy


POET’S NOCTURNE Should one happen upon the darkness with confidence, in familiar circumstance, there will be no place for emptiness, for heartfelt fear of loss from the old bones of imagination never fully laid to rest. ...

Most Popular

Politics & Policy

Hillary Ruins the Plan

Editor’s note: Andrew C. McCarthy’s new book is Ball of Collusion: The Plot to Rig an Election and Destroy a Presidency. This is the first in a series of excerpts.  There really was a collusion plot. It really did target our election system. It absolutely sought to usurp our capacity for ... Read More

Another Pop-Culture Christian Loses His Faith

It’s happened again. For the second time in three weeks, a prominent (at least in Evangelical circles) Christian has renounced his faith. In July, it was Josh Harris, a pastor and author of the mega-best-selling purity-culture book I Kissed Dating Goodbye. This month, it’s Hillsong United songwriter and ... Read More

Max Boot’s Dishonesty

Before yesterday, my primary criticism of the Washington Post’s Max Boot was political in nature. As I wrote in a recent book review, I found it regrettable that Boot’s opposition to the president had not prevented him from “succumbing reactively to Trump’s cult of personality, or from making Trump the ... Read More

A Brief History of Election Meddling

Editor’s note: Andrew C. McCarthy’s new book is Ball of Collusion: The Plot to Rig an Election and Destroy a Presidency. This is the second in a series of excerpts. ‘The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back.” Thus spoke President Barack Obama just a couple of weeks before ... Read More

The End of Hong Kong as We Know It

The protests in Hong Kong have been going on for more than four months now, and no matter how the current crisis concludes in the coming days or weeks, it will mark the end of Hong Kong as we know it. The protests started in response to an extradition bill that was proposed by the city’s Beijing-backed ... Read More