This post contains spoilers for Mockingjay Part 1.
Most reviewers of Mockingjay Part 1, including Slate’s own Dana Stevens, have noted that the movie ends with a jarring halt. Peeta, who has been “highjacked” by the Capitol, tries to strangle Katniss, who has spent the entire movie obsessing over getting him back. For fans of the movies who haven’t read the book, this presents a particularly juicy cliffhanger: For the first time, these two characters haven’t spent the entire movie trying to save each other. Instead, they get just one scene together, and he tries to kill her. For fans of the books, who know what’s to come, this simply re-emphasizes that—whatever you want to say about this being a feminist vision of a dystopic future world much like our present—The Hunger Games is really the story of all the obstacles Katniss and Peeta face in trying to save each other. Which is why ending the movie there makes perfect sense.
Of course, some moviegoers hate the trend of breaking the final book of a series into two films. They hated it when Harry Potter did it, they hated it when Twilight did it. And there are obvious financial motives behind the fad—although, to be fair, the final book in a series is often longer than previous installments and needs more time to wrap everything up. Some fans appreciate the extra two or three hours of movie, even if they are annoyed by the wait between release dates. Others would prefer one sleek film. In her review, Stevens posits that the “maundering pace” of Part 1 is likely caused by the split.
She’s not wrong—but then the first half of Mockingjay, the book, is also really slow and spends a lot of time introducing new characters essential to the rebellion (as well as a bit too much time on that cat—we get it, Prim likes her cat). The movie cuts a few of these characters, in some cases to make room for old favorites, like Effie Trinket. But for the most part the movie mimics the slow narrative buildup of the book. Whether that works or not is in the eye of the beholder. But choosing to stop where they do is thematically perfect, highlighting just what the series is really about.
Ultimately, this series is the story of Katniss and Peeta saving each other. After they’ve done so in two different arenas, in Mockingjay, they save each other in a new way. And ending Part 1 on the moment that sets up their final reconciliation is the perfect way to set up the real denouement.