Countdown to Mockingjay Part 1

On Friday, I will be taking a group of students and colleagues on our now-annual excursion to a local theater to see the newest film adaptation from The Hunger Games Trilogy. Though we have already speculated here a good deal on what is promised by the trailers and ads, and I will have up a complete review after the showing, I thought I would share my “top 9” list (everything in this trilogy is in threes, so we’ll do nine, not ten) of moments, themes, images, symbols, and other elements that I will be watching for as I and a healthy group of college students, high schoolers, and our colleagues and friends gather to see how the movie gamemakers have envisioned the transformation of this remarkable story from page to screen. I hope you’ll share your thoughts, too, especially if you plan to see the film!

1. Flower power–One of the most evocative scenes in the first few pages of Mockingjay is the one in which Katniss discovers President Snow’s chilly calling card–the white rose. This moment has already figured prominently in the advertisements, so we can hope that the rose motif, a powerful symbolic feature of the trilogy, will be used to its full potential. As well, there are  many other flora elements I hope to see, from dandelion and apple references, to reminders of how many characters have plant names (from Katniss to Prim), to more screen time for plant-named figures, like Gale’s sister Posy and Buttercup the cat. Posy has one of my favorite moments in the books, when she asks green-dyed Octavia if she is sick, and the once-fashionable prep tries to explain, “it’s supposed to be pretty.” With no Octavia, and Effie taking the prep team’s place, I am hopeful the moment will stay, perhaps with Effie’s lack of eyebrows. Buttercup, of course, is a critical character. After all, Collins introduces him in paragraph three (threes matter) of the first book, and his role in linking together the ends of the ring composition of this story is a vital one. Thankfully, the filmmaker replaced the miscast kitty of the first film, so let’s hope for more screentime for the toughest feline since the cat came back to Famer Johnson.

2. Fabulous Foreshadowing–Buttercup moments are foreshadowing elements, so we can hope his appearances will set the stage for his part in Katniss’s full circle moments at the end of the story. Other foreshadowing opportunities are legion, but there are a few I really want to see. More cat foreshadowing will be nice, but might be confined to Tigris in Part 2.  The scenes in the previews of the Victors’ Village angel, with only one wing, are promising of foreshadowing of the  trilogy’s heartbreaking finale. I also hope we’ll see enough of Gale’s military obsession to make his Part 2 choices believable. One element that the film makers introduced in the second film, and which I actually loved, was the role of Snow’s granddaughter. The winsome young actress, and the ironically doting Snow, set the scene for the end of Mockingjay, so I hope we will see her again before Coin and the more wrathful remaining Victors suggest that she be put into a rebooted version of the Games to avenge the war upon the remnants of the Capitol, and the oppressed threaten to become oppressors.

3. Moody Music–In the previews, that great angel scene is accented by the hauntingly beautiful voice of Lorde singing the film’s signature song, “Yellow Flicker Beat,” (a variation on “Flicker,” also on the soundtrack, just slightly different) a fantastic title that connects to the motif of Katniss as the girl on fire, the violence of the games with “beat,” and all the bird business, as a yellow flicker is a name for a yellow-version Northern Flicker woodpecker. The songs recorded for the previous two films have been really interesting, but particularly with the first one, were sadly underused in the movie itself. My favorite from the first movie, the Civil War’s fabulous “Kingdom Come,” should have really been centrally featured in the film but was not. Catching Fire incorporated more of the music it inspired, so I am hopeful that the many pieces recorded for the film will get plenty of use; after all, one of the most important facts about our Mockingjay is that, in the end, she sings.

4.Knots and Nooses–The novel’s signature song, a perfectly Appalachian murder ballad, that Katniss learned from her father, much to the horror of her mother, centers around a hanged man and his beloved who joins him in death on the Hanging Tree. While there is no Hanging Tree song on the soundtrack (maybe they are saving it for the last one), “Flicker/Yellow Flicker Beat” is pretty close, as Lorde croons “and my necklace is of rope/I tie it and untie,” in her rich description of the painful, beautiful experience of being the Mockingjay. The noose, which the song in the novel specifically calls “a necklace of rope,” inspiring young  Katniss and Prim to make rope necklaces and upset their mother, is an image that I hope we’ll see used to great effect in both parts of the film adaptation. Not only is Appalachian history and culture filled with mournful hanging songs, from Frankie Silver to Tom Dooley (Dula), but the noose is a politically charged instrument of execution that evokes the many layers of meaning in the novel. The song is promising, indicating that the filmmakers may not shy from this uncomfortable angle and may instead make the most of the noose imagery, as well as the knotting exercises that are part of both Katniss’s and Finnick’s coping with their anxiety over the fates of the ones they love. The symbolism of the knot is important, so I look forward to seeing Finnick, who has had little screen time in trailers, obsessively knotting and inspiring Katniss to do the same.

5. Threads of Threes–The big symbolic centerpiece of the trilogy, of course, is triptych. Threes are all over this story, from the number of the books, to the District 12 salute, to the multiples of three used with numbers of districts and tributes, to even the Hanged Man being a killer of three people. Splitting the third installment into two has spoiled some of the wonderful three motif, but I am hopeful that we’ll get enough “three-bies” to make up for that. There have been some nice uses of threes in the sets (I love the windows in Katniss’s study).  When I am jotting notes in my now-famous movie-day notebook Friday, I’ll have a spot where I will just note uses of threes, and I hope we get plenty.

6. Alchemical colors–Three of course ties into the rich use of Alchemy, and its primary color scheme of white, black, and red, with the resulting gold. The Hunger Games is an archetypal alchemical story, harking back to Shakespeare’s alchemical masterpiece of Romeo and Juliet with the threatened suicide pact, demonstrating the marriage of destruction and redemption. We’ve discussed the phenomenal use of alchemy in the trilogy, and the films have done a fairly good job so far, particularly in color usages, though I am still sulking over the ruined cornucopia  from the first film.  I look forward to seeing how alchemy emerges beyond the obvious black mockingjay suit and Peeta’s “white as Snow” look. With the dominant background of gray District 13, the alchemical elements are sure to stand out, like the flash of a mockingjay’s wing.

7. Feathered Friends–Birds are crucial symbols, of course, and I have been hopeful that the broken-winged angel featured in the trailers predicts a cinematic commitment to the powerful avian symbolism of the books. With the loss of the 50th Games flashback sequence from Catching Fire, we lost the wonderful bird connection to Madge Undersee’s Aunt Maysilee, Haymitch’s ally, victim of muttation birds, owner of a songbird later given to Katniss’s mother, and the original owner of the iconic mockingjay pin. The first film also removed Rue’s wings from her interview costume, and other great bird moments have been lost along the way, but I am hopeful that we will get some great bird moments in the last two installments, leading up to the painful, critical Phoenix transformation of Katniss.

8. Circles and spheres—The phoenix, though never mentioned by name in the trilogy, is one of its most resonant motifs, combining the bird and fire motifs with the beautiful full-circle of the story’s ring composition. In addition to its circular structure, the story is held together with rings within rings: circles of Tributes, standing on circles around a circular object in a circular arena; spheres of apples and pearls; even the use of the letter O in names. I hope we’ll see lots of this ring imagery, which so beautifully holds the story together and so clearly connects it to its mythic, literary, and historic roots

9. Mythic meaning—Suzanne Collins knows her history. As most readers know, her original inspiration, along with the horror and irony of televised war interspersed with reality TV, was the Theseus and the Minotaur myth. Her trilogy is thus a myth minefield, with names like Cressida (yes, let’s have a Trojan War name in our most military installment!); feasts, assassinations, and depravities that would make Dionysus blush (or at least make him want an invite to join in); and fabulous uses of references to mythic characters from Artemis to Tyr. In addition to these great elements, I hope we’ll see even more of the historical and literary power in elements in the film. The use of the rose symbols and dueling logos/ideologies, a clear connection to the Wars of the  Roses and those ever-fighting Lancasters and Yorks, who make the Hatfields and McCoys look like peace-loving commune-dwellers. The film makers are clearly embracing the rose imagery, and much of the look of the film shows that they see the conenction to more recent history, like the street fighting of the middle east wars. I do hope we will see salutes to some of Collins’s other literary and historical references, from the influences of Hawthorne (Pearls!) to the Julius Caesar scaffolding that makes everything work in the last half of Mockingjay, in particular.

But then, that might be asking too much of the movie game makers, who will, for the most part, just be trying to get people to  buy tickets, regardless of whether they have read the books or read them with any effort at critical thinking. That’s their job, of course, even if not one threatens them with a noose to make sure they succeed.

Some of us, though, will be watching carefully, hoping this film will earn our District 12 salute, rather than a Haymitch-worthy sneer.

We’ll be back here soon with our thoughts, and we hope, with yours as well! Off to the arena, er theater!


  1. Wow! I just came back from seeing the movie and I’m pretty sure you will be happy. Heck, John might even like it!

    It’s all there and more: the pearl; color imagery; knots and nooses; roses-amazing moment; bird imagery echoing a butterfly image; real-not real gamemaker awareness moment-I don’t want to spoil this except to say that it comes at the end of a propo and it blew me away; the hanging tree song-just perfect; and a final powerful moment with alchemical symbolism.

  2. I forgot to mention that Buttercup is definitely in the film and two moments when we catch a fleeting glimpse of the ‘old Katniss’ are shared moments with the wonderfully talented and well-cast ugly orange cat!

    The bomb crater is circle filled with roses and is a setting for two very powerful scenes.

    The Hanging Tree song was perfect–it had a real Appalachian mountain feel to the melody and rhythm. I can’t wait to hear your reaction to the scene, the aftermath, and also a slightly later moment when the head Gamesmaker changes one word in the propo–and patting himself on the back about it.

    Snow’s granddaughter is there in a brief shot and it’s great!

Speak Your Mind