The romantic power of three dominates the latest mega-cultural franchises, “The Hunger Games” included. In “Twilight,” Team Jacob and Team Edward battle for the moody pixie dream girl Bella. Can anyone really see Bella living happily ever after with either predator?
In “Harry Potter,” the three best friends Harry, Ron, and Hermione weave in and out of love, with Harry at the center. OK, it gets a little weird when Harry breaks out of the triangle only to date Ron’s look-alike ginger sister.
And, now, Katniss bounces between Gale and Peeta in the romantic tussle at the heart of “The Hunger Games.” The relationships often seem more fraternal than passionate — at least so far. These are still early days for the movie audience. Get ready for the slow build. With the end of the first installment, we are in the click-click-click uptick of a roller coaster — in many ways the romantic ride is yet to come.
How does the Katniss-Gale-Peeta postapocalyptic love triangle differ from the soft-core YA romances that preceded them? In “The Hunger Games,” Katniss remakes the love triangle trope because she’s an alpha girl, unlike Bella or Hermione.
Katniss stands out as Artemis the Huntress — she pulls the strings. And she owns the consequences of her mistakes. When her father died in a mine explosion, Katniss filled the void. She stepped up to become the family leader when her emotionally fragile mother shut down. Although assuming this adult responsibility so young angers Katniss, she would be uncomfortable any other way. She likes to be in control — and, among the Capitol’s many afflictions, it poaches control from the individual.
Romance also requires surrendering some control, which may be why Katniss is so reticent to yield her heart. In both the movie and the book, Katniss’s love choices are between another alpha, Gale, and Peeta’s beta male. That Peeta stands a chance reflects changing roles between the sexes in our society (and Panem, too). Will Katniss end up in an alpha-alpha relationship, or an alpha-beta pairing? Only time (and the final chapter of “Mockingjay”) will tell.
Gale, like Katniss, supports his family after his father’s death in the mines. He contributes to their survival through his physical strength — by poaching and protecting. He is at one with nature in a world where nature has been quarantined beyond the electrified fence erected by the Capitol. Katniss and Gale are mirror images of each other: They share the same fire, the same anger, and the love of the hunt. Their companionship peaks when they are silently taking action. They are the intake of breath before the arrow flies. And their physical passion, because this is YA, never pushes them out of the kissing zone. Like a seasoned trapper, Gale is waiting for Katniss to fall into his net of her own accord.
[Related: A Mom’s Eye View of ‘The Hunger Games’]
Peeta could not be more different from Gale — and Katniss. He’s a gatherer, not a hunter. He has never stepped beyond the village of District 12. He works toward consensus. He knows how to follow orders. He bakes and paints and uses words to knit people together. It’s Katniss who reminds Peeta in the training camp that he’d better display his physical strength because the other tributes have begun to view him as if he were their next meal. In other words, man up! Peeta displays more traditionally feminine attributes than Katniss. At the same time, he presents a more complementary option, and one that has the potential to complete her as a person.
“The Hunger Games” sets into motion a battle between an alpha and a beta male for an alpha female’s thorny heart, which contrasts with “Twilight,” “Harry Potter” — and most of the familiar love triangles. In some sense, Katniss’s attraction to Gale is narcissistic, and promises the least growth. Her affection for Peeta comes gradually — but does that make it any less real?
Avid readers know the answer to the riddle of Katniss’s tortured love life — it lies in the final chapter of “Mockingjay.” But there’s no need for a spoiler alert to say that Katniss’s true passion is her independence. That’s why she remains such a tough-love heroine, and the odd woman out in conventional love triangle stories that promise happily ever after.