“You love me, real or not real?” The legacy of The Hunger Games

Thursday night my friends and I went to the cinema to watch the eagerly anticipated final The Hunger Games film, Mockingjay Part Two. Having now seen all four films and read all three books, I thought it would be fun to write some thoughts down about them.

Katniss

I remember reading the original The Hunger Games novel in October 2012. I remember this distinctly as my husband and I were celebrating our anniversary in the hotel we were to marry in four months later. We had seen the film earlier that year and my colleague at the time had recommended the novels. I remember having been enticed by the film; it was not your average concept, it was pretty grim but seemed to have a lot of depth. Also, upon seeing the film, I could hardly imagine the books would come under the YA or Teen genres. Being a fully-fledged adult, my only complaint sometimes with YA fiction (even though I did enjoy the Twilight saga and am now really enjoying The Fault in Our Stars) that the concerns of the characters often come across as minor, and their tone a little whiny. But the voice of Katniss was different, very different. Her first person narrative is articulate and surprisingly self-aware for a sixteen year old. It is also very moving in places, such as when Katniss describes Peeta’s ascent to the podium when his name has been called.

“I watch him as he makes his way towards the stage. Medium height, stocky build, ashy blond hair that falls in waves over his forehead, The shock of the moment is registering on his face, you can see his struggle to remain emotionless, but his blue eyes show the alarm I’ve seen so often in prey. Yet he climbs steadily onto the stage and takes his place.”

I find this description so tragic and painful, but it is also a very effective way to introduce Peeta and their reality. They are the prey, the capitol is the predator.

Other, similarly moving observations/experiences are described by Katniss. When she describes the pain of her father’s loss, and asking “Where have you gone?” She remarks “Of course, there was never any answer.” Facing starvation, contemplating death and the beyond, taking responsibility for her family only aged twelve, Katniss is not your average heroine. And these are certainly issues us grownups can identify with. And Peeta’s kindness and generosity when he defies his mother and throws some burned bread to Katniss, is not the act of a child. These characters are relatable on so many levels to varying age groups, and even to us readers who are lucky enough to never know their sacrifices.

The love triangle as well, is not purely superficial, or self-obsessed, which I always found refreshing. It’s surprisingly complex given their unfortunate circumstances and even Katniss isn’t sure of her own feelings. Plus, she has to play along with the expectations of the games. This is a difficult and troubling balancing act. What are her real feelings? What is she having to fake in order to live? Her dilemma is awful.

Katniss and Gale

“Gale gave me a sense of security I’d lacked since my father’s death. His companionship replaced the long solitary hours in the woods…he became my confidant, someone with whom I could share thoughts I could never voice inside the fence…Being out in the woods with Gale…sometimes I was actually happy. I call him my friend, but in the last year it’s seemed too casual a word for what Gale is to me.”

Peeta and Katniss

 “Peeta sits beside me, leaning against the wall, his bad leg stretched out before him, his eyes trained on the outside world. “Go to sleep,” he says softly. His hand brushes the loose strands of my hair off my forehead. Unlike the staged kisses and caresses so far, this gesture seems natural and comforting. I don’t want him to stop and he doesn’t. He’s still stroking my hair when I fall asleep.”

This love triangle differs from Twilight for example; the sense of urgency is there all the time and Katniss needs both Gale and Peeta to survive. Bella to me all too often seems to be a prize Edward and Jacob squabble over.

As the films and the books move on, so does the fear, the urgency, the games and the love story. Facing another spell in the arena, Katniss is slowly losing her grip. How much more can she stand? Gale is flogged. She bargains with Haymitch for Peeta’s life. In the arena in Catching Fire, Gale is also slipping away in favour of Peeta as her suitor.

“So before he can talk, I stop his lips with a kiss. I feel that thing again. The thing I only felt once before. In the cave last year, when I was trying to get Haymitch to send us food. I kissed Peeta about a thousand times during those Games and after. But there was only one kiss that made me feel something stir deep inside. Only one that made me want more.”

This is cemented in Mockingjay. The final film was as painful as the book. As I sat in between two friends who had read all three books as well, I watched as both shrank in their seats, as I was doing, when we knew the mutts were coming, when we knew we’d soon have to say goodbye to Finnick. Listening to Gale’s screams to Katniss to “Shoot me! Shoot me!” as he’s captured in the capitol was spine chilling. Prim’s sudden and unfair death is handled well in film; it is brief and as final and painful as it should be, that is what death is. But Katniss goes on and the war is won. But what has she sacrificed? Her friendship with Gale is no more. Her family is in tatters. But Peeta remains, although fragile and disturbed from his torture in the capitol.

Peeta and Gale’s relationship is also very interesting in Mockingjay. Gale offers to shoot Peeta if he has to.

“Do you think you’d be doing me a favour by sending me back to Snow?”
“I’ll kill you before that happens,” says Gale. “I promise.”

They also share their views on their relationships with Katniss.

“It’s so strange to hear them talking like this. Almost like friends. Which they’re not. Never have been. Although they’re not exactly enemies.
“She loves you, you know,” says Peeta. “She as good as told me after they whipped you.”
“Don’t believe it,” Gale answers. “The way she kissed you in the Quarter Quell…well, she never kissed me like that.”
“It was just part of the show,” Peeta tells him, although there’s an edge of doubt in his voice.
“No, you won her over. Gave up everything for her. Maybe that’s the only way to convince her that you love her.” There’s a long pause. “I should have volunteered to take your place in the first Games. Protected her then.”
“You couldn’t,” says Peeta. “She’d never have forgiven you. You had to take care of her family. They matter more to her than her life.”

I think the Mockingjay films set up Katniss’ ultimate choice of Peeta better than the book did (though maybe I need to re-read it-I did binge read it in two days after finishing Les Miserables). Gale seems resigned to the fact he cannot win over Peeta. His and Katniss’ ideals begin to become disjointed too. They are less and less like the friends who used to go hunting in the woods. There is no future for them. This to me is more sudden and whimsical in the book and not as satisfying. It is also a sad, sad end to their lovely relationship. It is suggested they don’t see each other again, after all they’ve been through.

Overall, I have thoroughly enjoyed these books and films. Perhaps a bit unfair to Suzanne Collins, but for me Katniss, Peeta and Gale have been immortalised by Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth. The acting from all three has moved me to tears over the course of the films. Peeta’s poor tortured mind, Gales’ cries for Katniss to shoot him, Katniss’ painful face. And what I really take away from these books is not the political ideals of a distant dystopia but of the value of friendship; the loyalty, the carrying on and sacrificing no matter what the cost. The determination to change, to survive, to triumph are emotions which ring very true with me.

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