The Hunger Games franchise distinguished itself from other dystopian sagas based on young adult novels through its mature themes and characters. While the films spent a fair amount of time focusing on the central love triangle between Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), and Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth), they didn’t just focus on adolescent anxieties. Rather, The Hunger Games series also acknowledged the painful reality of living under fascism through a number of memorable older characters. While Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Plutarch Heavensbee had been one of the highlights of the series, Hoffman’s death in 2014 made completing his work on the final two installments a challenge. Instead of cutting out the character or using computer-generated imagery to complete Plutarch’s scenes, the creative team found a touching way to send off the character.
Plutarch was first introduced in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire as a primary antagonist who designs the special “Quarter Quell” version of the Hunger Games. Immediately, Philip Seymour Hoffman did a great job of subverting the expectations of the audience, especially those who had not read the books in advance and did not know who the character was. Initially, it appears that Plutarch’s goals are entirely villainous, as he seeks to “punish” the former victors by pitting them against each other in a more brutal version of the Games. However, it’s ultimately revealed that Plutarch’s real goal was to gather together the former victors so that they could work together to take down the Capitol, and he had secretly been working alongside the revolutionary movement the entire time. It’s impressive that Hoffman was able to disguise this twist so that it is genuinely surprising when Plutarch reveals his true side in the fight. He makes The Hunger Games: Catching Fire more exciting to watch again and again, as Plutarch’s real intentions are hinted at throughout. And, Hoffman’s Plutarch continued to play an integral role in the revolutionary movement in the final two films in the series, which moved away from the “Games” and into the real war itself.
Although Philip Seymour Hoffman had completed a majority of his scenes in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 ahead of his death, he still had one critical sequence in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 that had not yet been filmed. The sequence involved Plutarch discussing the future of Panem’s Districts with Katniss after the death of President Snow (Donald Sutherland). It was an integral scene in the film, as Plutarch had become a paternal figure to Katniss over the course of the Mockingjay films. His words of wisdom give Katniss the reassurance she needs to believe progress can be made now that the “Hunger Games” are over. To cut the scene would have been damaging to the thematic core of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, but it was important that these words of wisdom came from Plutarch. In order to get around this conundrum, Director Francis Lawrence decided the scene would be completed with Woody Harrelson’s Haymitch Abernathy reading Plutarch’s advice in the form of a letter to Katniss.
This scene restored the dialogue that had been saved for Hoffman, and so the meaning behind Plutarch’s advice didn’t change. In some ways, it felt sort of charming that Plutarch would have written a letter to Katniss. He was a character who always used advanced technology through his involvement with the games, so perhaps writing things down with an old-fashioned pen and paper was his way of acknowledging that times had changed. Within the context of the story, having Haymitch read the letter to Katniss also made sense. Plutarch had been given the position of “Secretary of Communication” in the new government in the months after the war had concluded, and would likely not have the time to make a personal trip to visit Katniss. However, Haymitch had also been an active participant in the conflict and had the emotional tenacity to help Katniss cope with everything that she witnessed.
Plutarch’s words serve as a powerful concluding moment to the series, as it’s the first time Katniss ever receives words of encouragement from an authority figure. Katniss has lived her entire life in fear of those in power, and she even learns to distrust the District 13 revolutionary leader President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore). Unlike the other adults Katniss had met, Plutarch isn’t interested in playing political games. His goal is to put the games themselves to an end, as he knows more than anyone that they are a destructive tool used by the Capitol to create fear. Even though Hoffman wasn’t present for these scenes, Plutarch’s words confirm to both Katniss and Haymitch that their efforts were not in vain.
While having Haymitch read Plutarch’s letter was a logical narrative solution, it also served as the perfect tribute to Hoffman’s legacy. Hoffman had been an active part of the series since his debut in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, so it certainly would have felt strange if he had not gotten to partake in the concluding celebration after the war. Much of the goodwill that Plutarch had generated among fans of the series was due to Hoffman himself; to recast the role or to cover up Hoffman’s absence by using a computer-generated double wouldn’t have had the same emotional impact. Instead, by writing around the situation, the film acknowledges how important Hoffman was to the series. The friendship that Katniss and Haymitch had with Plutarch resembles the friendship that the cast had with Hoffman in real life. Plutarch’s speech may have initially been written as a standard conversation between him and Katniss, but in the context of Hoffman’s passing, it feels like a final soliloquy. Plutarch may be absent in the scene itself, but it’s evident from what he says that he wants to pass along these kind words to Katniss himself. These words of encouragement, measured advice, and empathy feel like the one last gift that Hoffman and Plutarch could bestow upon the series.
The Hunger Games films are currently streaming on Peacock.
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