Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Dream sequences that weren't

The best way to summarize the massive disappointment that is the final Hunger Games movie, especially in its final 40 minutes, is that I thought that 40-minute sequence was a dream sequence, but it wasn't.

Rarely has such a series of improbable, and improbably cruel, events followed from another series of events in what I assumed was a conventional movie, that my only choice was to believe that they constituted a dream. But they did not.

Mockingjay Part 2 spoilers to follow.

It's a logical enough assumption, given that the sequence of events starts with Katniss Everdeen getting knocked unconscious and awakening in a hospital bed for the umpteenth time in the movie. Literally, this happens to her umpteen times in this movie, to the point that you start to laugh about it. (Joining your laughter over the cheesy love triangle dialogue between Katniss, Peeta and Gale.) And since we just saw her knocked to the ground with her clothing burning ever so placidly, the whole thing kind of has an air of artificiality to start with.

So she was knocked down in the middle of what we now understand was a climactic sequence in the rebellion against the Capitol, though at the time it certainly didn't feel like that. We learn that the fighting is now over and that the Capitol has already fallen. (Too bad, that would have been nice to see.) We also now learn that Snow is in captivity and scheduled for execution, and we know this because Snow himself has told her, walking up to her in some kind of rose garden with a still vital brand of the mustache-twirling confidence that has characterized his behavior throughout the entire saga, explaining it all -- including the true nature of what happened in that final attack.

Dream sequence, right?

It isn't. Katniss' sister Primrose is really dead, something we thought we saw just before Katniss received her eleventieth concussion in this movie, and the rebellion leaders are really, unclimactically, sitting around Snow's ceremonial circular table where he plans evil deeds. Or used to until he was caught and tapped for execution.

So let's go back to that first thing.

Primrose Everdeen is dead. That's the most disappointing cinematic death of a young person since Newt bought it in the crash of Ripley's ship that starts out Alien 3. What was so disappointing about Newt's death was that it invalidated everything Ripley had fought for in Aliens, and so does Prim's death invalidate Katniss' selfless act of volunteering to take her sister's place at the initial reaping some three movies ago. You know, the thing that started it all. Okay, it's "realistic," and Prim never felt like a fully realized character anyway. But is it satisfying? HELL no.

Ultimately, we as an audience want -- nay, we demand -- to be satisfied at the movies. Satisfaction can come in the form of sorrow or tragedy, and in fact if every Hunger Games character made it to the finish line that would probably be quite unsatisfying. But kill off one of those superfluous love interests, especially Peeta, whose character arc had become increasingly irritating with this whole Capitol brainwashing subplot. Or especially Gale, who felt like he was sitting around like a hunk of wood for the whole series. Or especially Haymitch or Effie Trinket, who sit around doing absolutely nothing -- ABSOLUTELY NOTHING -- in this movie. Or the digital apparition of Philip Seymour Hoffman in the movie's final scenes. Don't kill off the thing that started the rebellion in the first place, the symbolic small-scale goal that needed to be achieved within the context of the much larger one. I suppose that could have been Suzanne Collins' whole point, but if so, come on.

But even if you accept Primrose as a necessary sacrifice to Collins' artistic points, how much of an anticlimactic bummer is this ending? Katniss essentially gets no heroic moment (not that she hasn't already had many) and is essentially a bystander to the completion of events that she set in motion, which are then portrayed off screen. But let's not pretend she does not still have an important role to play, because that would be forgetting the actual ending, when she is meant to execute Snow (that's rather sick, for a hero) and instead executes the demagogue who rose up in Snow's place, President Coin, who we only just recently stopped thinking of as a hero herself. Yes, it seems clear that Coin sacrificed Prim and other children in order to win the battle against Snow, and yes, she's just as malicious as her very immediate predecessor in very real ways. But Katniss executing anybody is pretty shitty, when you are trying to impart lessons to impressionable girls, and then having the crowd tear Snow to pieces, Mussolini style, while he laughs like a crazy person? Well it's all just a bit much. What makes the scene even more dramatically inert is its supposedly surprise ending, which is that Katniss kills a foolish and openly vulnerable Coin instead of Snow, which in that moment is as predictable as it is supposed to be unpredictable.

And then about 15 more boring minutes of how everyone's lives start to settle toward a happy ending -- and Katniss screaming angrily and throwing objects at a cat.

Yes, the most unintentionally funny part of a movie full of unintentional humor is Katniss' scenes of reckoning with her sister's death, which play themselves out with Katniss hurling household items at the cat that once belonged to her sister. I understand the cat is being used as an inappropriate symbol upon which to project her sorrow over failing to save Prim, but the way Francis Lawrence directs this scene (and Jennifer Lawrence acts it) turns it into an episode of high absurdity. Titters were rippling through my audience in what was supposed to be the movie's emotional climax, but it botched both the narrative and the emotional climax so fully that people were laughing through both.

At some point during all this nonsense, I stopped wondering if the characters were dreaming. But then I started wondering again when I got out of the theater and realized that this movie has a 65 on Metacritic. They'd have to be dreaming for some critics to have really liked this as much as they did. One critic even gave it the maximum score of 100, with the overall prognosis being "generally favorable reviews."

My only conclusion is:

My whole experience of watching The Hunger Games: Mockingjay -- Part 2 must have been a dream.

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