If I had to use one word to describe my experience watching The Hunger Games, it would be relief. I finally got the female protagonist I’ve been waiting for all my life. Neither a sex symbol nor an anti-sex symbol, Katniss is just a normal person who rises to a challenge. She’s brave without being fearless, on her game without being perfect, strong without being a bitch. Granted she’s got an athletic edge, but it is really her focus and perseverance that enables her to survive.
Jennifer Lawrence was perfectly cast as Katniss; a beautiful girl, but not unrealistically so. In particularly harrowing scenes she looks the way any of us might look after a long day. The one time she is decked out, it is not for male validation, it is so that she can “make an impression.” Like any of us, she has to sell herself in order to stand out in a competitive world. I couldn’t help but compare this trilogy to the original Star Wars trilogy and marvel at how much more Katniss is like Luke Skywalker than Princess Leia.
I also love Katniss’s relationship with Peeta. She is clearly the more capable of the two, but she isn’t put off by his passivity and he isn’t threatened by her ambition. She makes no attempt to become more traditionally feminine in order to seduce him. In fact, she makes no attempt to seduce him at all. He likes her because she is capable and she likes him for what he sees in her. It’s the gender reverse of almost every movie in this genre. Their relationship reminds me of the female friends I have that are more professionally accomplished than their supportive, adoring partners. Who wouldn’t want to come home to a guy like Peeta after a long day of hunting?
Is Katniss Everdeen a perfect feminist character? Salon’s Laura Miller argues that she’s less empowered than Twilight’s Bella Swan, in part because she lacks volition (she never wanted to participate in The Hunger Games). But heroes aren’t necessarily born. Look at Spider-Man, The Matrix’s Neo, Han Solo. Was it any less brave of these characters to choose a path based on circumstance? What makes Katniss a true hero is that she does not curl up in a ball and and wait for someone to save her or wring her hands and scream “ew!” when confronted by blood and gore. The Hunger Games might not be her ideal way to spend a weekend, but she doesn’t hesitate to fight for her own survival.
Katniss lacks the self-consciousness that girls develop at a certain age. The age when magazines, cosmetic companies and ad agencies instruct us to dress for our body shape, conceal our zits and smooth out our hair. Katniss is that rare female character who is refreshingly unaware that she’s female. And when female characters are allowed to just be, they do things like herald one of the most potentially successful films of all time.