The Other Side of Coin

coin speechThe major new character in Mockingjay Part 1 is President Coin, and I was surprised by her in the film.  It wasn’t that she didn’t fit the image of the character in my head, she very much looked the part. It wasn’t that Julianne Moore didn’t nail her steely, powerful nature, she absolutely did. What surprised me was that she was almost likeable. Not likeable in the sense that I’d like to give her a hug or even share a casual meal, but there were plenty of moments where I found myself liking how she handled situations. Admiring her leadership. And then feeling weird about it because I KNOW things are not as they seem.

I think these confusing feelings about  Coin were intentional, to build suspense, but also just due to the fact that we are no longer completely stuck in Katniss’s head. Katniss never liked her, so the reader never gets a good impression of her. But in the movie, we get the scenes between her and Plutarch, the scenes of her in the control room during the attack on 13, and we get new scenes added and some left out that left me with a much more positive impression of her than I had midway through the Mockingjay book.

Knowing when to put Plutarch in his place, and when to accept his help.

Oh Plutarch, always wanting to give advice. Coin knows she needs him in this rebellion, and she knows where his talents lie, so when he suggests that she add some “salesmanship” to her speeches she rebuffs him at first, but by the end of the film we can see that she’s been letting him help craft her words, with good results.  When it comes to military matters however, she’s quick to shut down his suggestions. She knows her stuff, and she’s not going to let the salesman make her doubt her experience or her instincts.

I won’t send an untrained civilian into combat – we’re not the Capitol.

This line from Coin, during the discussion to let Katniss go to District 8, is chilling if you’ve read the books, because you know she will do this, along with proposing another Hunger Games. But if you were a participant in this discussion who did not know the future, you would think she was a responsible, moral leader, not wanting to put Katniss in undue danger. Does she want to protect Katniss because Coin is a good person or because Katniss’s service (alive) is valuable to the rebellion? The way Julianne Moore delivers the line makes you believe it’s both.

coin and katnissGiving Peeta credit for the extra evacuation time.

Coin does put up a mild fight against pardoning Peeta in exchange for Katniss being the Mockingjay, but when she tells Katniss that she “won’t forget” that Peeta’s warning gave them extra evacuation time, it’s meant to comfort Katniss. You think, oh, that’s nice of her to acknowledge the great risk Peeta took in warning them. We’re just on the road to friendship now! Well not exactly, but it’s a positive step, right???

The “You’re Strong Like Me, You’ll Get Through This” Solemn Pep Talk

Again, serving to build a rapport with Katniss, Coin visits her as she waits for news on Peeta and Gale’s fate returning from the Capitol. Prim has already revealed to us that Coin lost her husband and daughter to the District 13 epidemic, so moviegoers understand the woman knows the helplessness of watching loved ones die due to matters out of her control. In my first viewings of the movie, I felt this was a really kind moment, where Coin tries to console Katniss and remind her of her strength and ability to get through tough times. As the book reader, I look back at it now and wonder if by associating Katniss with herself, Coin is finally, discretely hinting through these similarities that she perceives Katniss to be a threat. Coin doesn’t want Katniss to become too strong, she needs her to remain somewhat unbalanced.

All of these moments come together to leave me with the impression of not really trusting Coin, because it’s clear she will do what is best for the rebellion to win, Katniss or her loved ones be damned. However, she’s not giving big clues that she sees Katniss as a direct threat YET, so as a viewer on Katniss’s side I don’t see her as a baddie (again emphasis on YET, it’s not like I can turn off the book brain). I’m curious to see how they make that shift in Part 2.

The added dimension to President Coin – one of the many benefits we get from MJ1.

JJ

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6 comments

  1. My take on movie!Coin is that her progress from unpolished military commander to more of a politician type is meant to be an evolution, and that instead of being devious and power-hungry from the start (which is the feeling I got from the book), she is supposed to essentially start out with good intentions but wind up corrupted by power.

    Indeed, co-screenwriter Peter Craig even stated (on buzzfeed.com):

    ““She’s someone who really believes in her cause,” he said. “I don’t think she’s somebody who really intends to mistreat anyone. And over the course of the movie … she gets a little bit seduced by some of the power.'”

    And as the Buzzfeed article states, it seems to me that the prep team (and their mistreatment) being cut from Part 1, was likely not just a time saving measure, but deliberate, as that would certainly result in the audience getting quite a different early impression of D13. Especially as Effie is seen to be held in much better conditions, even if she considers herself a prisoner at first.

    (The movie also seemed to present D13 as actually having successfully “played dead” and fooled the Capitol, instead of agreeing to a separate peace, though it’s possible they’re saving this reveal for Part 2).

    I also got the feeling that unlike book!Coin, who was a foil to Snow (even her name suggests she is the “other side of the coin”), movie!Coin was set up more as a foil to Katniss herself. The scene in which we see that Coin is referring to hand-written notes for her first speech, much as Katniss does when she gives her list of demands, cemented that impression, way before Coin herself tried to present herself to Katniss as being similar.

    It will be interesting how the general audience reacts to what Coin does in Part 2, though. Will they think “so all the nice stuff she said was just an act” or “wow, power really corrupted her, didn’t it?” I also wonder if they will make explicit that Plutarch was complicit in the plan to kill Capitol kids and blame it on Snow; this might result in them casting more blame on Plutarch than Coin herself, and wind up thinking Katniss should have shot him, instead.

    I also wonder how the movie will portray Plutarch ‘s involvement in the idea to hold a Games with Capitol kids. In the book, Coin specifically takes credit for the idea, but this doesn’t mean Plutarch wasn’t in on it, although I’m sure he disavowed any involvement after Coin’s death.

    But note that one of the deleted scenes from the CF movie shows Plutarch burning the original Quell card and replacing it with a fake one. If this is meant to be what happened in the book as well, that means Plutarch was lying when he told Katniss that the theme of the Quell was a surprise to him. And his actually egging Snow on to crack down on the Districts knowing this would stir up rebel sentiment, certainly is suggestive of his darker, manipulative nature, and his willingness to sacrifice innocents for the cause.

    So…will a darker Plutarch plus a more likeable Coin result in a narrative where viewers find Plutarch more to blame for Coin’s actions? Although I am quite happy with Coin getting more of a backstory, such as losing her husband and daughter to the epidemic, I am somewhat concerned that there will be an effect similar to what happened in GOT with Tywin Lannister, who also committed pretty much every evil act his book version did, yet show-only fans still seem to have a much better opinion of him than book fans.

    Anyway, certainly the changes to Coin mean that even those who know what she will do in Part 2, will be in some suspense as to HOW she gets to the point where she is willing to sacrifice innocents and go from stating “we’re not the Capitol” to actually being so “Capitolized” that she winds up actually thinking the Hunger Games are a good idea, as long as the side being punished is changed.

  2. To me, Coin’s portrayal was everything I hoped for. Yes, there were some changes that made her more likable than the book version of her, but there are a few details that many forget when it comes to Coin.

    First, Katniss is an unreliable narrator, and her point of view is clouded by mistrust from the very beginning. Coin is obviously a charismatic leader who earned the D13 people’s respect and support with her brilliant strategic sense, but Katniss’ perspective doesn’t let a whole lot of that come through. I also find that the line between what Coin did for power and personal gain, and what she did for the country as a whole is actually quite blurred. What Coin did was evil, but were her intentions evil as well? Did she believe in her cause? We often want to simplify these things, sort them into black and white categories, but the truth is we never get an answer to that question. I’d like to believe that the answer lies somewhere in between: Coin wanted power AND peace for her people. And interestingly enough that mentality somehow led her back to the very creation of Panem and the games. Instead of change she almost brought the country back to a whole circle. I think that’s a fascinating aspect of the series, and one that can be explored through the complexities of her character.

    I’m not worried about Coin becoming too likable. I think it’s completely fine to find her actions and intelligence both admirable and horrifying. This is a series filled with characters living in that morally grey area – including Katniss herself -, and Coin, both in the books and the movies is a perfect addition to that list. I’m very excited about this direction and how her narrative will progress on screen in Part 2.

    1. mse, I remember your defense of Coin last year and I’m glad the movie gave you “everything I hoped for”! One of my own gripes with Mockingjay the book, was how flat and undeveloped Coin was as a character. As someone pointed out in an Amazon.com review, “Coin has the character development of a stump”. So, I also appreciate any attempt to expand the character and make her more believable as a person, not just a symbol of D13’s moral equivalence to the Capitol. Especially because Snow is such a total villain.

      Also, while Coin is presented as a less-polished politician early in the story, obviously she needed to have SOME charisma in order to rise to President of D13 in the first place. Her actions also remind me of some “civil rights activists” who I’m sure do believe in their cause, but have also been accused of using the racial tensions in the country to achieve notoriety and political power, sometimes personal wealth as well. Especially since the “D13 salute” with a raised fist, is pretty much exactly the same as the Black Power salute.

      And as to the question of whether making Coin too likeable will cast the later actions of Katniss in a more questionable light, I suppose one could also argue that even in the book, perhaps SC did NOT mean for us to cheer on Katniss’s actions unreservedly. I mean, yes, her shooting Coin obviously kept her from assuming power, but Plutarch survives, although (if you believe Snow) he was complicit in many of the atrocities Coin authorized as well, and he pretty much gets off scot-free, as did others involved, since once Coin died, many of her secrets died with her.

      No, SC didn’t leave us any easy answers, I don’t think she’s promoting an extreme pacifist position (as some readers do) but her approach to both the Games as an analogy for war, and the actual war, seems to be that in war, there are no real victors, just survivors. I think the movie has shown this pretty well too. The dam “battle” winds up wiping out many rebels as well as PKs, even though it does accomplish a major strategic objective, and I certainly wasn’t cheering.

  3. Excellent points.

    I had my reservations at the beginning when it seemed like they softened and woobiefied her.
    However, in the end, I think she showed her true colors and manipulative bitch in the very last scene where her rhetoric about victory (you could see Gale just lapping that up and caught in her web) juxtaposed with the suckiness of Peeta’s situation. When she said “take what’s ours” in reference to the Capitol, I got the feeling that, while it’s packaged in a way to mean that the districts take the reigns, it actually mean that Thirteen is the one that’s going to get the main share of the cake,
    In that regard, everything beforehand makes a lot more sense.

    What I don’t agree with is the idea that she got seduced by power during the war.
    Considering the totalitarian nature of Thirteen (even if we didn’t see the brutal aspects, we certainly saw the rigid hive-mind mentality; of course until the first bomb hits, then it’s every person for themselves), I believe she was already firmly entrenched in her megalomania. Was she seduced by power on her way up? Does she truly believe that she’s the right person to bring greatness to Panem, no matter the sacrifice for the “greater good”? Probably.

    There’s also a possibility that whoever ended the Dark Days and established the Hunger Games started out with rational intentions in the beginning as well before they got corrupted by power or a need for vengeance. Hell, even Katniss wondered about that.

  4. Enjoyed both your analysis and the comments.

    As a very casual movie watcher, my strongest moments of dislike for Coin were her speeches, and the militaristic chants she elicited. As Gale noted, her victory was over the death of civilians. Her other victory speech was contrasted with Peeta’s predicament — this really gives you the idea that she has her eyes on the bigger picture, but not always for the better.

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