Somewhere in our hyped up world of pop-culture, somebody decided to compare the insecure fawnings of Twilight characters with the “love-triangle” featured in Suzanne Collins’ best-selling novel The Hunger Games. At first, I was amused by the tweens giggling in line for the new movie’s midnight showing, wearing shirts that read: “I need Peeta like I knead bread”. I was less than thrilled, however, when I returned to my college campus and found that most conversations concerning the Hunger Games centered on Gale’s hotness or the frustrating lack of development in Peeta and Katniss’ relationship. Really? Are love and romance the only themes of value in this movie?
Peeta is not simply the kinder, gentler foil to Gale’s brooding manliness. The question we should be asking is not who should Katniss choose, but what she should choose. You see, Peeta and Gale are not real, embodied characters; instead, they are representations of opposing responses to violence in society.
Katniss lives in an impoverished community, oppressed by an ostentatious group of individuals in the Capitol. While all of the main members of the cast exhibit resentment towards this authority, Peeta and Gale embody contrasting ideologies: idealism and realism.
Peeta is determined to “be himself” and not allow his values to be compromised by the capitol “culture” or “sponsors”. Peeta finds creative ways to fight against injustice, from his small act of beneficial bread-giving to joining forces with the enemy to protect Katniss. Peeta desires peace, and he uses his charisma, eloquence, and steadfast heart to win people to his cause.
I was interested to hear friends complain about how “weak” and “pathetic” Peeta appeared in the movie. The irony, of course, is that Peeta was physically stronger than every other Tribute in the Games. He chose, however, to resist dominating others with his power. He chose flight over fight, disguising himself with paints and hiding away in the woods. Was this cowardly? Or worse— unmanly? Peeta’s idealism often makes him seem foolhardy, but it also shows him to be selfless and self-sacrificing in the face of extreme difficulty.
Gale, while not featured prominently in the movie, still has enough face time to take on a more aggressive, realistic stance. “You know how to hunt. Show them how good you are,” Gale tells Katniss before she leaves for the Games. He encourages her to fight and not to give up. In the books, we witness Gale taking on a leadership role among the rebel forces, focusing his energies on weapons and traps with which to attack the Capitol.
Yet, Gale even admits, “They just want a good show, that’s all they want.” Having children fight one another in the arena is simply another way in which the Capitol gains power by winning at their own game.
The most disturbing violence in the movie is certainly Rue’s death. This child, this picture of innocence, is brutally murdered before our eyes. But why is her death more upsetting than the deaths of Clove or Cato or Foxface? They are all children, and, more importantly, they are all very capable of violence. Was it not Rue who inspired Katniss to drop a hive of trackerjackers on the unsuspecting group below? No one is exempt from the reflexive violence that lies simmering in our human nature. It is a choice we must make: whether to act on this impulse or not.
Ultimately, Katniss must decide how she is going to respond to the tyranny of the Capitol. During the powerful (but rather rushed) climax of the movie, Katniss is faced with the choice of killing Peeta and going home, or finding some other way to “win” the Games. In a moment of inspiration, she uses the poisonous berries to break the Capitol’s dominance. Katniss is willing to sacrifice her own life, if it ends the cycle of violence perpetuated by the Hunger Games.
Gale wants to win. Peeta wants peace. In the end, Katniss chooses to win on her own terms. These are important distinctions, and they have nothing to do with “true love”. So please, let’s stop getting all googly-eyed over the cute boys, and let’s start engaging with some of these powerful issues that this movie brings to light.