MAJOR SPOILERS FOR MOCKINGJAY AND BTVS SEASONS 5 AND 6
I decided to prepare for the upcoming release of Mockingjay by re-reading the Hunger Games Trilogy. I’d forgotten how much of Mockingjay involves Katniss dealing with PTSD and its collateral symptoms such as depression. I’m wondering how the movie plans to address this.
I think we’re all used to the idea that real world consequences don’t impact our action/fantasy heroes: they don’t get concussions (much less CTE), they survive conditions and injuries which would kill us, and they’re triumphant, not saddened, when they defeat the bad guys. Mockingjay doesn’t follow that script. The “Games” were horrifying, all the more so because they involved children. Those horrors, in turn, push even the nominal “good guys” into adopting equally horrifying tactics. Mockingjay is an extended exploration of much truer consequences, of the terrible impact on Katniss of all she suffers. Only the epilogue holds out hope for the future.
This naturally brought to mind BtVS Season 6 – for me, pretty much everything comes back to BtVS – during which Buffy was depressed for the entire season. I also realized that each hero has a sister who stands as a metaphor for innocence and purity. The difference, and it’s an important one, is that Prim dies at the end of Mockingjay and Dawn survives. Try to imagine how Buffy would have reacted had Dawn died at the end of S6, perhaps from something Willow did (Prim died in Mockingjay because of something Katniss’ own allies did). This wouldn’t merely add to Buffy’s depression, it would have rendered pointless her own sacrifice for Dawn in The Gift, just as Prim’s death canceled out Katniss’ heroic decision to volunteer as tribute in Prim’s place which started the whole sequence in motion.
I don’t think there are many examples of successful movies or TV shows which spend lots of time showing the hero depressed. As I tried to make clear in my episode essays for S6, the decision to keep Buffy depressed for the entire season was extremely controversial at the time and probably still is. Personally, I find both S6 and Mockingjay very realistic, and I like both of them a lot. Not everyone shares my taste, though, and most viewers found it hard to identify with a depressed hero and lots of them don’t like S6 at all.
I doubt the movie will be as relentlessly bleak in tone as the book, though I’m hoping it will. JMHO, but the first film didn’t do enough to bring home to the audience the true horror of the “Games”. It was too much an adventure, and it sucked us into the idea that Katniss could return triumphant and unscathed except for her uncertain feelings about Gale and Peeta. Catching Fire did a better job, in my view (though book 2 isn’t as good IMO, I actually liked the movie better than the movie version of book 1). The larger question, though, is not whether the two previous movies established the necessary background, it’s whether the filmmakers are willing to challenge the expectations of the genre and of their audience.