Should Parents Take Their Kids to See Mockingjay?
Another year, another movie in the Hunger Games franchise (at least, until next year). Following the massive success of The Hunger Games book trilogy, the third-but-not-final movie, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1, debuted this weekend to much fanfare.
Like the two previous Hunger Games movies, Mockingjay brings heavy doses of action and “bloodless” violence wrapped up in a story of love, rebellion, and most importantly, survival.
I had the opportunity to catch Mockingjay opening weekend, below I share my recap of the film and notes for concerned parents.
Director: Francis Lawrence
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, and Liam Hemsworth, with a fantastic supporting cast that includes Donald Sutherland, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, and Natalie Dormer among others.
Rating: PG-13 for violent and frightening images, and some drug/alcohol use.
Run time: 123 minutes
Warning! Spoilers ahead. Skip to the Parental Warnings if you haven’t read the book.
Mockingjay Part 1 picks up right where Catching Fire left off. At the end of the previous movie, Katniss destroyed the arena’s force field with an electrified arrow, ending the games forever and knocking herself unconscious. When she wakes, she discovers that she is being taken by friends and sympathizers to District 13, which was rumored to be destroyed. Katniss’ home, District 12, had been destroyed, though she has been assured her family is safe.
District 13 is the setting for the “new” rebellion against the Capitol. Peeta is still in The Capitol, under President Snow’s control, making the situation significantly more difficult for Katniss.
At the start of Mockingjay, Katniss wakes up in rough shape, physically and mentally. Disillusioned by the fact that her saviors left the capital with her, while leaving Peeta behind to be tortured and manipulated, Katniss struggles with her role as the face of the rebellion. Katniss never knew (and how could she?) that the rebel leaders were using her as a rallying cry for their supporters, but she’s now confronted with the reality that she is the key to unifying the rebels against the Capitol.
At first, Katniss is asked to read scripted lines for propaganda films that will be used to rile up the rebel supporters. When this goes terribly, the leaders of the rebellion decide to send Katniss and Gale to the front lines with Cressida (Natalie Dormer) and a camera crew in tow to capture some more inspiring footage.
Throughout the film, propaganda messages from the Capitol containing Peeta are broadcast. The Capitol is using Peeta as their own symbol to counter the rebel propaganda. In these interviews, Peeta repeatedly calls for a ceasefire as a civil war will hurt everyone.
Katniss struggles as she still loves Peeta, and now he’s seemingly taken the side of the Capitol in the brewing civil war. She knows he’s doing and saying whatever he can to survive, but is deeply hurt by the efforts to undermine the rebellion.
In each of the broadcasts, Peeta appears weaker and more shaken, and in one last message he manages to warn District 13 that the Capitol is sending bombers, which allows everyone enough time to get to a safe place to ride out wave after wave of bombs being dropped on the surface above.
A window of opportunity opens after the rebels destroy a dam and knock out power in the Capitol, the rebels launch a rescue mission to extract Peeta and the other tributes held captive in the Tribute Center.
Surprisingly, the rescue mission is a success, but Gale notes that even though the power came back on while they were there, and the anti-aircraft weapons in the Capitol were back online, they were able to fly out of the Capitol with no resistance.
It becomes clear that President Snow allowed this to happen, using Peeta as a “Trojan Horse,” mentally hijacked and turned against Katniss. When Katniss gets the opportunity to see Peeta, he quickly lunges and grabs her neck in an attempt to kill her.
The movie ends with a view of Peeta in agony, tied to a bed in a secure room as the rebel leaders plan a way to rehabilitate him. This sets the series up nicely for a conclusion in Mockingjay: Part 2, due out November 2015.
There are a few things about Mockingjay that differ from the first two movies (and books) that seem to split popular opinion.
First, there are no “games” in this film. While the first two films centered on the annual “Olympic-style” games, this installment begins a new era in which the games are destroyed and the story follows more closely the struggles of the characters as they wade the new political climate in an attempt to build a unified stance against the Capitol. Due to the greater focus on politics and propaganda, the story slows, allowing for greater development of major and minor characters.
Second, Mockingjay is the only book in the trilogy to be split into two movies. I didn’t love this decision. Rather than creating two roughly two-hour long movies, Mockingjay could easily be one single movie around three hours long. Instead, fans have to wait another year and buy another movie ticket, which to me seems like nothing more than a ploy to sell more tickets.
Third, Mockingjay may be the most violent of the films in the series. Whereas most of the violence in the first two films centered around the games, Mockingjay contains some very real and disturbing scenes of war and destruction. In visiting her home district which was destroyed by the Capitol at the end of Catching Fire, Katniss walks among countless skeletons, reeling from the realization that everything she fought for in The Games has been wiped away.
After seeing the film, I can say confidently that Mockingjay Part 1 is quite a bit different than The Hunger Games or Catching Fire. The story has turned away from the annual “Hunger Games” and now focuses on the politics of war. The dialog-to-action ratio is up, but there are still several violent scenes related to the uprising.
- Despite the lack of “games” in this film, there is plenty of imagery that could disturb younger viewers. When visiting District 12, burned bodies and skeletons are everywhere, and at one point Katniss steps on a skull.
- In one sequence, citizens from each district are lined up, hooded, and executed by being shot point-blank.
- During a visit to a rebel hospital, Katniss has to plug her nose to avoid the stench of decaying corpses in the hallway.
- During a few of the uprising scenes, dozens of rebels are shot and killed by Peacekeepers.
- [toggler title=”Spoiler” ]In one jarring scene after Peeta has been rescued from the Capitol, he tries to kill Katniss by strangling her. The scene is very intense, as it clearly shows Peeta digging his thumbs into Katniss’ throat.[/toggler]
- None noted.
Drugs and Alcohol:
- In one scene, Haymitch, frustrated with District 13’s prohibition of alcohol, asks Katniss if she’s been given any “medicine” that he can have.
- Nothing more than a few moments that go no further than a kiss.
Conclusion: Is The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 Appropriate for Kids?
In the first two films, the action was mostly centered around the games, and the fighting could potentially be viewed as more self-defense than senseless violence.
In Mockingjay, however, there are no games. Instead, the violent images are more focused on torture, war, and the human cost of political uprisings.
If you’ve taken your kids to see the first two films in the series, that means they are a year or two older now, and may be old enough to handle the content in Mockingjay.
Due to the somewhat-more-mature subject matter in this film, we recommend considering the MPAA rating of PG-13, as children under 13 may be disturbed by several scenes.
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