Dear Kurt and Bart,
It seems fitting that The Hunger Games saga got new costume designers for Mockingjay Part 1. Not only is your surrogate fashionista character gone from the series (Lenny Kravitz’s Cinna), but this film marks a big structural change for a franchise that, after just two films, was already in desperate need of a makeover.
After being rather dazzled by the original Hunger Games film, then lukewarm over the sequel Catching Fire, I knew Mockingjay needed to buck the trend of sending the kids into a deathmatch competition, and start exploring the larger world of Panem. I wasn’t sure was how the film would manage to do this without losing sight of what made the series special in the first place. For my money, that’s not so much the love triangle between Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutchinson, and Liam Hemsworth (that’s every YA franchise today), but rather the allegory about our contemporary media culture. So it wasn’t until the characters started talking about costumes that the film felt both on-brand and freshly re-launched.
After a cold open on Katniss in a state of emotional distress, the story slowly rebuilds itself around her reluctant anointment as the face of the rebel movement. As always, she’s being used: this time by her liberators to motivate an uprising. She initially shows no interest in the job—until, of course, she sees the designs for her sexy warrior costume. The point isn’t played as shallow as I’m making it sound, but it certainly is an early turning point for her character. She apparently needs to look the part before she feels comfortable playing it.
Most stars probably feel that way—I think.
In fact, this theme has repeated itself in all three films. A flaming dress or cocktail gown will imbue Katniss with the confidence she needs to bust out of her shell (a point which is brought up several times by her image consultant, Effie). The film takes itself fairly seriously, though, and when Katniss does finally witness the destruction of The Capitol firsthand, it’s more important that we feel her anger than marvel at how good she looks when she’s getting angry.
In fact, setting much of this film in a rebel bunker was probably a pretty big disappointment to you guys. Although there’s always women in side-ponytails and brown leatherjackets at Halloween, most fans of The Hunger Games prefer to dress up as citizens of the Capitol Glitter and excess rule the day. But we’re cut off from that city in this film. Instead, there’s a lot of plotting and scheming, with the occasional off-site adventure. Enjoyable, for the most part, but it feels incomplete. Probably the same way you guys felt about doing the costumes.
I don’t suppose many people will be throwing Hunger Games parties wearing the grey overalls that dominate most of this film. But you never know. Fashion, and youth franchises, can sometimes surprise.