The Flame of Love in Catching Fire

 /  Jan. 27, 2014, 7:30 a.m.

The Hunger Games

Catching Fire, the wildly popular sequel to Suzanne Collins’ book, The Hunger Games, highlights a fundamental crisis for women in literature and movies today. The sequel introduces a love triangle that is unfortunately given more weight than it deserves. It appears that the focus is taken off Katniss Everdeen, the heroine, as a strong female lead, and is placed on her relationships with fellow District 12 Games competitor, Peeta Mellark, and childhood friend, Gale Hawthorne. The relationships become the obsessions of the Capitol’s frivolous citizens and the film’s viewers, revealing how the movie industry often cuts down the on true impact of strong female leads by placing a huge emphasis on their romantic lives.

The initial excitement surrounding Katniss resided in the fact that Katniss was not a romantic lead, but served instead as a complex female protagonist who commanded the direction of an entire series. Her determination to volunteer as tribute revealed Katniss’ profound devotion to her family, as this first episode signaled the development of a complicated heroine whose story extended well beyond the romantic realm. The heroine’s compassion, resourcefulness, bravery, and dedication to a task that both strengthens and traumatizes her offered the Capitol’s citizens and viewers alike a female lead who refused to fade into the background. By the end of the first film, though, complexity and ingenuity are not what the Capitol wants from this girl – but it is what audiences should want, and Catching Fire manages to show them why.

Often, a love triangle can weaken the heroine’s character. It sometimes seems impossible to put a woman in a large role without that role being romantic; she has to be in a relationship, the object of someone’s affection, or lusting after someone herself. However, plenty of male roles go for whole movies without any romance. When multiple men are involved, she gets criticized for being a tease, if she is at all responsive to both suitors.

The most important task of an independent, focused woman ends up being her choice of a boy. Jean Grey has powerful telekinetic and telepathic abilities in the X-Men­ ­films, but her primary function is as Wolverine’s romantic interest, while she is married to Cyclops. The entire plot of The Twilight Saga is whether Bella will pick Edward or Jacob, to the point that fans choose “teams.” Even the new Hobbit film, which strayed from Tolkien’s canon by adding in a female elf warrior just to have a woman among the all-male cast, created romance in a movie originally with none. Katniss has quite enough on her plate as a two-time tribute trying to protect her family from the Capitol, recovering from the trauma of the Games, and preparing to return to the arena, all while the media is obsessed with her. But now her true conflict is whether she would rather kiss sweet Peeta or hunky Gale?

Miraculously, Catching Fire does not perpetuate but acknowledges this phenomenon of forcing women into romantic roles. The film demonstrates and criticizes the pressure on and sexualization of women by society, and the struggles women face in response. The superficial Capitol wants a silly girl head over heels in love, not an intelligent and determined woman, and President Snow uses Katniss’ romance to distract citizens from the more important issues in Panem and more notable aspects of Katniss herself.

Viewers should not be falling into the same trap. Katniss is not a tease. She is a teenager filled with concern for her friends and in need of them, feeling the tug of adolescent romance and confused by her emotions, especially when she has so much else to worry about. She is drawn to the boys who are close to her, but she does not have the privilege of having normal teenage flirtations, and the stress of dealing with them on top of everything else does not make her situation easier.

Catching Fire does not weaken Katniss Everdeen by adding romance. It reminds audiences that they should not be rooting for Peeta or Gale, but for Katniss to overcome the challenges that are thrown at her.

The image featured is from Kendra Miller Photography. No alterations have been made. 

Laurie Beckoff