November 3, 2014

The year of the “Mockingjay” adaptations

Posted in Pop Culture at 5:13 am by chavalah

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1"

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1”

“This is where the meaning of the entire series comes into play. The answer to why these books exist exists in “Mockingjay,” and that’s really been exciting to me. That’s been kind of what I’ve hung on to through these stories.”
–Francis Lawrence, director, in Entertainment Weekly

(Warning for spoilers about the end of The Hunger Games series)

When I was 11 years old, my mother bought a copy of my favorite book, wrote an inscription and packed it into my Camp Moshava trunk. No, the book wasn’t “Mockingjay,” though I kind of wish I were that young now. :p. It was 1995, and the book was “Daphne’s Book” by Mary Downing Hahn.

“Daphne’s Book” is my favorite novel, and my go-to for understanding life. Written by a fellow Marylander, a librarian, and published the year I was born, it’s a coming-of-age story about an adolescent dealing with various, difficult changes that mark the passage of time in life. I’ve been writing a short story for years based, in part, on the protagonist, Jessica’s, difficulty in losing once-close friends; I completely blame this book for my enduring fear of relationships. 😛 Another of the novel’s story arcs involves titular character, Daphne, attempting to hide her grandmother’s dementia from authorities, something that felt much more visceral to me in later years once my own grandmothers came down with the disease.

But the real message of the story, what my mom referred to in her inscription, and what came back to me when reading “Mockingjay” is the theme that there isn’t always such a thing as a happy ending; sometimes you can’t get back what you lost, but there is always such a thing as hope.

A lot of people don’t like the closer to The Hunger Games series, or at the very least, it’s a bit divisive among fans. It breaks the mold, a little bit, from the more action/adventure-paced plots of the first two, where Katniss was too focused on surviving the immediate threat of the Games to give much thought to the larger politics. In “Mockingjay,” she’s forced into that world. More to the point, she’s largely unwilling, not your archetypal heroine who goes full throttle into her badass destiny. She’s a major player of the war, not out of some personal political drive, or special, revolutionary superpower, but because of the exploitative nature of her society to propagandize the lives of normal people.

I very viscerally remember reading “Mockingjay” for the first time, pausing to send frenetic texts to the friend who indoctrinate me into the series, and ending it by pacing around my apartment while listening to the “Jane Eyre” soundtrack, my insides churning as I thought about Katniss’s nightmare of being buried alive by the dead. Another one of my favorite authors from adolescence, Tamora Pierce, linked to this post about “Mockingjay,” the crux of which is this:

It’s not an adventure series about justified vengeance. It’s about the consequences of violence, and the personal and social toll it takes on everybody. [Collins] fashioned an intense anti-war story and suckered the audience into it with her thrilling dystopia tales. What a great trick.

I find I’m pretty much in total agreement, although I’m not entirely sure I’d call author Suzanne Collins’s message dogmatic enough to be anti-war. But “Mockingjay” is certainly about the horrible effects of war. Even the most just wars (because honestly, what is more just than stopping child sacrifice,) have horrible repercussions. Katniss escapes to small, enclosed spaces in order to scream, swaddle herself in clothes and shut out the world when her emotions become overwhelming. Peeta is left with fractured memories and violent PTSD after being tortured as a prisoner of war. Gale, responding to power after a lifetime of state-enforced poverty and hard labor, embraces martial extremism with his us vs them mentality. The rebellion and it’s leaders, ostensibly created to be a safe haven from the Capitol’s sadism, falls victim to similar corrupting influences. Bombs fall, everyone is terrorized, and innocents like Prim, who catapulted the series when Katniss saved her from a senseless death, is killed anyway. This is not a happy ending, where “the Mockingjay” can reclaim what was lost.

In “Daphne’s Book,” Jessica and Daphne attempt to write a short story for a middle school competition, based upon some toy mice Jessica owns, one of which has gone missing. In Jessica’s first version, the mouse ultimately comes home, but in Daphne’s version, mirroring real life, the mouse never returns but the family doesn’t give up hope. In “Mockingjay,” Katniss turns hope into a game. From the final paragraphs of the epilogue:

My children, who don’t know they play on a graveyard.

Peeta says it will be okay. We have each other. And the book. We can make them understand in a way that will make them braver. But one day I’ll have to explain about my nightmares. Why they came. Why they won’t ever really go away.

I’ll tell them how I survive it. I’ll tell them that on bad mornings, it feels impossible to take pleasure in anything because I’m afraid it could be taken away. That’s when I make a list in my head of every act of goodness I’ve seen someone do. It’s like a game. Repetitive. Even a little tedious after more than twenty years.

But there are much worse games to play.

I’ve read a lot of great fiction since “Mockingay,” much of it literary, with strong prose, and compelling characters in intriguing situations. But this is the last one I’ve read that has deeply influenced my worldview—about the nature of war, of depression and trauma, and the need for personal human connections. The “Mockingjay” epilogue is also my favorite of all time (I still cry whenever I read it)—it’s short and cagey, due to Katniss wanting to protect the privacy of herself and her children; it also refuses to give the story a happy ending, instead insisting that the characters have to keep dealing with what was lost, but in embracing this connection to each other, they are able to forge a hopeful future. Yes, you can call me an “EverLark shipper” (granted, they have both a doctored, public relationship, and their more complicated, private relationship, which changes greatly over 20-plus years)—but more to the point I’m staunch on having people realize that just because they are teenagers and just because this is YA doesn’t mean that the relationship is automatically stupid or shallow. In fact, I believe that a focus on fictional relationships in general gets a bad rap for being “feminine” or “soap operish,” when really it’s about the fabric that makes us human. Or allegorical toy mice. 😛

My mom wrote in my 20-year-old copy of “Daphne’s Book”: “Daphne might not believe in happy endings, but I do.” However, “Mockingjay,” where the protagonist doesn’t only battle depression, like I do, but also the effects of war, reveals the complexity of the “not happy, but hopeful” ending. We can’t right all the wrongs and forget all trauma, either individually or as a society. There is no one, revolutionary fix. But there is, as Katniss found, small, personable ways to count up the goodness in your life.

I feel like I’ve only touched on a fraction of what this series has to say about war and other themes, but at least I have one movie to go, and I’ll probably sneak in a few more posts. 😛 I’ve been attempting to rewrite this one in my head for months, in order to explain why November 21, when the first “Mockingjay” adaptation comes to the big screen, is such an important event for me. Given F. Lawrence’s quote at the beginning of this entry, I am extremely hopeful. It seems like we come from the same school of thought with “Mockingjay,” so I’m just going to re-watch this tv spot about the devastation of war, and continue to count down the days until I can use my premiere ticket. 😀 Fire is catching.

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2 Comments »

  1. […] think about the world, and the type in which we’d like to live. Something I didn’t mention in my last post about “Mockingjay,” but in terms of Judaism the book, and movie one, make me think of tikkun olam, healing the world. […]

  2. […] 1) Favorite novel? Mockingjay, without a doubt. It’s the least action-packed, but most complex of the trilogy in what it posits about the nature and after-effects, physical and psychological, of violence. It’s also the most heart-rending with long-term consequences, and I hope the final film does that justice. I actually wrote a blog post about all of this last year. […]


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