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Katniss’s concentric circles of concern

Interview with Hunger Games producer Nina Jacobson

Nina Jacobson - Image by Jere Keys
Nina Jacobson
Movie

Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 *

thumbnail

After the forced histrionics of <em><a href="http://www.sandiegoreader.com/movies/the-hunger-games-mockingjay-part-1/">Part 1</a></em>, it’s nice to see star <a href="http://www.sandiegoreader.com/movies/archives/?q=jennifer+lawrence">Jennifer Lawrence</a> being allowed to quiet down and act again. But the story still feels stretched, a countdown that slows as it approaches zero hour. The various Districts, long divided and conquered by the Capitol, have united behind Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen and declared war on their oppressors. But this isn’t a war movie; it’s a movie <em>about</em> war: a consideration of its tactics, its strategems, its presentation, its resolution, and its aftermath. As a result, you’re not here to watch Katniss kick ass. You’re here to watch Katniss agonize about ass-kicking, then set out on a long journey to kick one very particular ass, that of President Snow (<a href="http://www.sandiegoreader.com/movies/archives/?q=donald+sutherland">Donald Sutherland</a>, splendid as ever). The scattered action set-pieces feel very much like sops to the stimulus-starved — in particular, an underground set-to with a bunch of anonymous, humanoid mutts. And the various traps set for our heroes, so potent in <em><a href="http://www.sandiegoreader.com/movies/hunger-games/">The Hunger Games’</a></em> arena, now seem faintly silly. Why not just use bombs and soldiers? (Oh, right — because they can’t shoot straight.) With Julianne Moore. Directed by <a href="http://www.sandiegoreader.com/movies/archives/?q=francis+lawrence">Francis Lawrence</a>.

Find showtimes

Matthew Lickona: If you had to say, “If The Mockingjay Part 1 was x, then Part 2 is y,” how would you describe that difference?

Nina Jacobson: I would say that Part 1 is a propaganda war and Part 2 is a real war; in Part 1, Katniss is reacting, and in Part 2, she is acting.

ML: I saw in an interview where you talked about convincing Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins that you should be the one to shepherd this project to the screen. You said you felt protective of the story. What was it you wanted to protect?

NJ: I think that Suzanne had done a remarkable job of being able to explore the consequences of violence and the consumption of violence and brutality as entertainment without herself ever exploiting or making hay out of the violence itself. I think that’s pretty hard to do, and I really admire the high-wire act. It would be very, very easy for a movie to fail to follow that mold. It’s very easy to either shy away from the intensity of the material or go gratuitous. So trying to find that razor’s edge that she found was something that I thought would take a lot of close attention and care. The unflinching quality in making sure that the movies never wimped out was important to me. And the complexity of Katniss as a character: holding onto the many layers that she has.

ML: Is that the sort of thing you talked about when you pitched yourself to her?

NJ: When we spoke, we talked about tonal bandwidth a lot, making sure that the movies would be PG-13, so that they could be seen by young people, and yet not shirking away from the material. But we also talked about Katniss’s concentric circles of concern. She volunteers for her sister, and I think we can relate to the idea of stepping up for someone we’re related to. But then her transformation occurs. Stepping up for Prim makes it possible for her to step up for Peeta, and then she’s sort of forced to step up for her District, and from her District to her country. We talked about making sure that Katniss never jumped circles too soon.

ML: Without slagging on the competition: there’s a lot of YA dystopia fiction out there. What is the particular virtue of The Hunger Games that has made it the leader in that genre?

NJ: I can see how it can be seen as belonging to that genre, and yet, I find it so different. I really do think of the books and movies as general audience material that has young adult protagonists. Young people are empowered to make change, and that makes it appealing to young people. Young people are not the only ones with the fear and the anxiety and the anger and the desire for change. The subjects explored are so timely, regardless of your age

ML: Specifically?

NJ: The gap between the 99 percent and the 1 percent is everywhere you look. I can’t tell you how many times I’ll have an experience as an adult and I’ll think, “I feel like I’m in the Capitol.” I was just reading a book about Hurricane Katrina, and what people went through there is like something that would happen in the Districts. Or consider the consequences of war: we’ve been at war for over a decade as a country, and our soldiers come home and wear the scars that they’ve brought back with them, and are changed by what they’ve experienced. Or this kind of blasé consumerist approach to some of the most damning problems that we have culturally, this kind of, “It’s reality TV; it’s all just good fun” attitude. The notion that we’d rather sort of passively consume than rise up and change. Or the ability of propaganda to paralyze, and how disruptive it is when people are able to take control of the message.

Video:

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

ML: I was struck by the emphasis on Peeta’s “Real or fake?” questions as he’s trying to recover from his conditioning. He says the fake stuff tended to be glossier and more alluring. I thought it was a pointed critique of a generation that seems to be embracing the glossed up image of the Instagram world, reality filtered through social media.

NJ: I think young people are pretty sophisticated about the media that they consume, how presentational it is, and how manipulated it is. I guess the question is, will people remember that? All of this connectivity gives us great power to effect change. Look at what just happened in Missouri from Facebook posts, you know? But it can also be really the opiate of the masses at a whole other level than was imaginable before. It’s easy to sit around and do nothing besides check your Instagram.

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Nina Jacobson - Image by Jere Keys
Nina Jacobson
Movie

Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 *

thumbnail

After the forced histrionics of <em><a href="http://www.sandiegoreader.com/movies/the-hunger-games-mockingjay-part-1/">Part 1</a></em>, it’s nice to see star <a href="http://www.sandiegoreader.com/movies/archives/?q=jennifer+lawrence">Jennifer Lawrence</a> being allowed to quiet down and act again. But the story still feels stretched, a countdown that slows as it approaches zero hour. The various Districts, long divided and conquered by the Capitol, have united behind Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen and declared war on their oppressors. But this isn’t a war movie; it’s a movie <em>about</em> war: a consideration of its tactics, its strategems, its presentation, its resolution, and its aftermath. As a result, you’re not here to watch Katniss kick ass. You’re here to watch Katniss agonize about ass-kicking, then set out on a long journey to kick one very particular ass, that of President Snow (<a href="http://www.sandiegoreader.com/movies/archives/?q=donald+sutherland">Donald Sutherland</a>, splendid as ever). The scattered action set-pieces feel very much like sops to the stimulus-starved — in particular, an underground set-to with a bunch of anonymous, humanoid mutts. And the various traps set for our heroes, so potent in <em><a href="http://www.sandiegoreader.com/movies/hunger-games/">The Hunger Games’</a></em> arena, now seem faintly silly. Why not just use bombs and soldiers? (Oh, right — because they can’t shoot straight.) With Julianne Moore. Directed by <a href="http://www.sandiegoreader.com/movies/archives/?q=francis+lawrence">Francis Lawrence</a>.

Find showtimes

Matthew Lickona: If you had to say, “If The Mockingjay Part 1 was x, then Part 2 is y,” how would you describe that difference?

Nina Jacobson: I would say that Part 1 is a propaganda war and Part 2 is a real war; in Part 1, Katniss is reacting, and in Part 2, she is acting.

ML: I saw in an interview where you talked about convincing Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins that you should be the one to shepherd this project to the screen. You said you felt protective of the story. What was it you wanted to protect?

NJ: I think that Suzanne had done a remarkable job of being able to explore the consequences of violence and the consumption of violence and brutality as entertainment without herself ever exploiting or making hay out of the violence itself. I think that’s pretty hard to do, and I really admire the high-wire act. It would be very, very easy for a movie to fail to follow that mold. It’s very easy to either shy away from the intensity of the material or go gratuitous. So trying to find that razor’s edge that she found was something that I thought would take a lot of close attention and care. The unflinching quality in making sure that the movies never wimped out was important to me. And the complexity of Katniss as a character: holding onto the many layers that she has.

ML: Is that the sort of thing you talked about when you pitched yourself to her?

NJ: When we spoke, we talked about tonal bandwidth a lot, making sure that the movies would be PG-13, so that they could be seen by young people, and yet not shirking away from the material. But we also talked about Katniss’s concentric circles of concern. She volunteers for her sister, and I think we can relate to the idea of stepping up for someone we’re related to. But then her transformation occurs. Stepping up for Prim makes it possible for her to step up for Peeta, and then she’s sort of forced to step up for her District, and from her District to her country. We talked about making sure that Katniss never jumped circles too soon.

ML: Without slagging on the competition: there’s a lot of YA dystopia fiction out there. What is the particular virtue of The Hunger Games that has made it the leader in that genre?

NJ: I can see how it can be seen as belonging to that genre, and yet, I find it so different. I really do think of the books and movies as general audience material that has young adult protagonists. Young people are empowered to make change, and that makes it appealing to young people. Young people are not the only ones with the fear and the anxiety and the anger and the desire for change. The subjects explored are so timely, regardless of your age

ML: Specifically?

NJ: The gap between the 99 percent and the 1 percent is everywhere you look. I can’t tell you how many times I’ll have an experience as an adult and I’ll think, “I feel like I’m in the Capitol.” I was just reading a book about Hurricane Katrina, and what people went through there is like something that would happen in the Districts. Or consider the consequences of war: we’ve been at war for over a decade as a country, and our soldiers come home and wear the scars that they’ve brought back with them, and are changed by what they’ve experienced. Or this kind of blasé consumerist approach to some of the most damning problems that we have culturally, this kind of, “It’s reality TV; it’s all just good fun” attitude. The notion that we’d rather sort of passively consume than rise up and change. Or the ability of propaganda to paralyze, and how disruptive it is when people are able to take control of the message.

Video:

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

ML: I was struck by the emphasis on Peeta’s “Real or fake?” questions as he’s trying to recover from his conditioning. He says the fake stuff tended to be glossier and more alluring. I thought it was a pointed critique of a generation that seems to be embracing the glossed up image of the Instagram world, reality filtered through social media.

NJ: I think young people are pretty sophisticated about the media that they consume, how presentational it is, and how manipulated it is. I guess the question is, will people remember that? All of this connectivity gives us great power to effect change. Look at what just happened in Missouri from Facebook posts, you know? But it can also be really the opiate of the masses at a whole other level than was imaginable before. It’s easy to sit around and do nothing besides check your Instagram.

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