This book to film comparison contains spoilers.
When I found out that my cinema was doing a triple feature and showing all three Hunger Games movies back to back, I didn’t need any further encouragement. I dragged my mum along to watch Suzanne Collins’s world emerge and flourish on the screen. Then, when midnight struck, it was time for the beginning of the end. I love keeping my tickets as mementos but they were taken and swapped for a wristband only minutes after I had them in my hand. So this stylin’ pink wristband will have to do.
The Hunger Games are over but the war against the Capitol has only just begun. Katniss must try to put aside her fear for Peeta’s life and assume her role as the face of the rebellion: the Mockingjay.
The first time I read Mockingjay, I hated it. I found it a disappointing finale to a climactic series. When I read it again, sometime later, I finally understood why I had such difficulty. In the Mockingjay book, Katniss is suffering a concussion and post-traumatic stress, her entire world is crumbling, and she can barely hold it together. The second time had a much bigger emotional impact for me as I slowed down and considered her state of mind. For most of Mockingjay, Katniss either can’t or won’t listen to what’s going on around her because it’s too much for her to bear. While this is almost uncomfortably realistic, it unfortunately doesn’t make for the most thrilling read.
I was worried when it was revealed that Mockingjay was to be split into two films. I didn’t want the movies to fall flat, disappointing so many fans like the book had. I also didn’t know how they could properly explain everything that Katniss was feeling and thinking when so much of it takes place in her head.
I shouldn’t have worried. Like the first two movies, the Mockingjay Part 1 script stays very close to the original plot, with some exchanges coming directly from the page without any alteration. But Katniss’s first-person point of view is ditched in order to fully explore what’s happening in Panem. All of the paraphrased details that Katniss can’t comprehend are fleshed out and we are given even more than I expected.
Throughout the movie, Katniss struggles to accept her role as the Mockingjay, knowing that she is being watched by the Capitol, being used as a reason to torture Peeta. But the Capitol is not the only one watching: the districts are being inspired by Katniss’s every move.
After Katniss’s infamous ‘If we burn, you burn with us!’ line is broadcast, rebels in District 7 shout the same thing to the Peacekeepers. The Hanging Tree song is transformed from a small, private moment in District 12 to a battle cry in District 5 in a sequence that gives me chills just thinking about it. The a cappella choral arrangement of that song is tattooed on my soul.
Greater scope means greater responsibilities, and that means not just expansion but rewrites.
The thing about Mockingjay Part 1 is that it has to engage the audience. There is no opportunity for Katniss to be completely frail, or for her concussion to rule her actions because, like the districts, the audience has to see her strong and whole in order to willingly follow her journey.
Katniss’s concussion is barely mentioned. Her disorientation could be seen as similar to the rest of the District 12 survivors. She can’t spend all her time hiding in cupboards and inconspicuous places as she does in the book. The string of information that she repeats in the book to guide her thoughts is only said once, at the very beginning of the movie.
Without her concussion to blame for confusion and disorientation, Katniss is left to feel only shock and horror over and over and over again as she sees what the Capitol has done. I lost track of how many times Jennifer Lawrence had a sole tear running down her cheek and an expression of pure shock at seeing piles of rubble and human remains strewn around her.
I know that I would probably react the same way in seeing that; the staggering loss of human life is not something that you can just witness once and become indifferent to the next time. But I’m not the least bit annoyed that there were so many scenes like that in the movie. That is Book Katniss shining forth and it’s a reminder that, if the movie hadn’t changed quite a few things, that’s all we would be able to see from her.
Similarly, Finnick isn’t in full breakdown mode. He’s upset but he is nothing like the broken human being from the book. He still spends much of the movie in a hospital dressing gown, which contrasts strangely against the aura of strength and assurance that he exudes.
I know that these changes were necessary for the movie. We have to have strong characters to drive the action. But I did miss some of the timid interaction between Katniss and Finnick as they try to help each other survive. Some of that, for me, was the most touching character development because we were able to see who Finnick is when he’s not playing the assured Capitol darling.
In complete contrast, the way that Peeta is depicted is superb. He looks more gaunt with each Capitol interview, but in surprisingly subtle ways. High collars and a slightly altered hairstyle accentuate his deterioration, making his head seem almost too large for such a weak body. After he is rescued and brought to District 13, we get the full brunt of Peeta’s tortured mind. The choking scene with Katniss is more violent than the book insinuates and the final scene of the movie is downright distressing to watch.
When reading the book, I never had any real worry that Peeta would be cured because, if anything, he just seems angry and confused. I feel like Mockingjay Part 1 almost makes up for the change in Katniss and Finnick’s states by turning up the intensity on Peeta, making him terrifyingly violent and not just confused but mad. The Peeta in this movie is not a sad boy in need of fixing but a true threat, stripping him of all the casual joy and kindness that Josh Hutcherson has shown in the first movies.
Though she plays an important part in the book, President Coin doesn’t appear all that often. With Julianne Moore playing the character, Coin suddenly gets way more development, and even some sympathetic backstory. She goes from giving strict, regimented speeches to starting to revel in the spotlight, feeding off the excitement as victory seems more tangible. It’s only at the very end of the movie that Julianne Moore begins to turn this quiet and firm character into someone who might make you feel truly afraid or threatened.
Katniss’s prep team, who have never played a big part in the movies, were replaced entirely by Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket. I understand and support this change because it fits with the way the movies have minimised the role of the prep team. But I almost wish that Effie had undergone the torture instead not because I want to see it but because it is such a pivotal moment for Katniss. Seeing the way they have been tortured, she realises that District 13 can be just as dangerous as the Capitol in its own way.
Her distrust of 13 is developed further in the book, spurred on by scenes between her and Finnick. Katniss begins to question what people—including Gale—will hide, what lengths they will go to in order to ensure that she remains the perfect Mockingjay.
What I wanted most from the movie depiction of District 13 was to see Katniss realise those dangers. I wanted her to see how the survivors of 12 are welcomed so enthusiastically because 13 has suffered a pox epidemic and needs new breeding stock. While the pox epidemic is mentioned in the movie, it’s only in passing and the information is never relayed so callously.
There is a moment in the book where Katniss realises that she is powerful. So powerful, in fact, that President Coin had to remind her own district that Katniss wasn’t in charge. I wanted that. I wanted Katniss to understand her own power and realise that President Snow isn’t the only one willing to take her out for rising too far.
Mockingjay Part 1 didn’t deliver on that note, but there’s still plenty of time for Katniss to truly realise that in Part 2. Hopefully it won’t be lost in translation when the war begins in earnest.
Mockingjay Part 1 is everything that people wanted from the book—everything that I wanted from the book. Here we have clear, concise action propelled by Katniss’s strength of character. But in trying to fix up all the larger-scale problems, does it increase some of the smaller ones? Yes. Absolutely. But I find that the more time I spend thinking about why a certain change was made, the more I feel like it was the right one.
This movie is not perfect. But I feel, after my first time watching it, that I liked it far better than I liked Mockingjay on first read-through. More than anything, I’m happy to see that it works as its own movie. There is a cliffhanger. There are some things that need to be expanded more in Part 2. But the script and the production are clearly fully aware of what the audience wants, and are striving to provide it. Personally, I think the first half of the book was the strongest. And if they can make huge improvements to that, then I can’t wait to see what they do with Mockingjay Part 2.