The Voice of Reason. Those were my initial thoughts on Gale following Thursday night’s screening of Mockingjay. He urged a mentally uneased Katniss to follow District 13 brass’ wishes that she participate in the propos, heeded Coin’s pager summons’ to return to District 13 after a would-be romantically charged afternoon hunt, and returned far too-collected (and somewhat mentally checked-out) after returning from Operation Peeta. I don’t recall a time when he interrupted or spat out his words or showed his lack of fear of authority. His voice was edgeless. His eyes never flashed. He never spoke out of turn. I observed a tall, clean-shaven man with so much screen time but little personality. Good-looking but without any understanding of how to harness his attractiveness to manipulate. Gorgeous but with a loud but innocuous temper.
He was safe and tame and banal.
He was rational and was boring.
Yet, Gale has every reason to fill every scene in with his smoldering. He watched more than 90 percent of his district get torched by the Capitol’s bombs. He has spent years of his life breathing toxic coal air, a hazardous job, and one which still barely made ends meet. His best friend and the love of his life was forced to participate in the Hunger Games not once, but twice, and to survive, she romantically forsakes him. He’s always been politically savvy. He’s not naive. Where are his calculations? Where is his coldness? Perhaps his character is supposed to come off as canny, but Gale’s “measuredness” comes off almost at the risk of being passive.
At the genesis of the series, Collins’ suggests that Katniss and Gale first bonded because of their mutual understanding of one another. They both lost fathers in the same coal mining accident and found themselves unexpectedly the sole providers for their relatively inept families. Any personal softness has hardened as a consequence of this shift in roles but because of their ability to sense this in the other, they allow themselves to occasionally be honest with one another about their anger, their vindictiveness, and their desire for revenge. Gale in particular harbors aspirations of sticking it to the Capitol and has no difficulty conveying that to Katniss. He’s unquestionably devoted to his family, but he’s longing for the movement when his life can transcend coal.
Where is Katniss’ romantic longing for Gale derived? Her admiration certainly stems from the fidelity he lavishes on his mother and siblings. But it’s Gale’s live-wire temperament that both scares–and attracts her. Equally unpredictable and mouthy, their interactions in Catching Fire range from ambitions of escaping and sticking it to the President to finding themselves several blows away from death via Thread’s whip. Whereas Peeta convicts Katniss by his personal acts of selflessness but often resists verbally sparring with her, Gale refutes and rebukes her. He pushes Katniss to find her social pulse and resist subsuming herself in her suffering to the point that it inhibits her advocacy for justice on a grander stage.
What a shame that character has yet to show up in the films.
As the story progress, Katniss’ conflict over whether she has stronger feelings for Peeta or Gale evolve. Her notions of the boys change from personal affection to symbols for the larger tensions in her life. How does one practice love and integrity in the face of corruption, Peeta’s behavior consistently confronts her. How actively should one practice violence against corruption or return evil for evil, Gale consistently pushes. What does it mean for Katniss’ soul that she so consistently finds her actions and desires so often mirror those of Gale? What implications does that have for the broader anger of the rebel movement, of which Katniss is the (symbolic) leader?
In many ways, I’m relieved with Hunger Games’ washed out romantic narrative; its absence leaves space to explore the film’s heavy themes: trauma, manipulation, governance and consumerism. But its flimsiness ultimately costs us a stronger Katniss. A “better” love triangle would not elevate a superficial romance; nothing this integral to the series is deliberately shallow. Instead, it would center on the Girl on Fire’s unwieldy rage and the fight over who can most influence her to channel it in service of their consciences.