Returning to the real world after nearly two and a half hours of static tone and overcooked plotting, film critics had plenty to say about The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 . I myself had quite a few comments about the picture, and spent a lot of time reading over the broad wealth of my colleagues’ critiques. But, over and again throughout the conversation, I found myself disagreeing with the popular opinion on one issue in particular: the merits of Gale Hawthorne. As is likely no surprise to anyone steeped into the fandom surrounding the Hunger Games books and movies, Gale didn’t exactly win the favor of the wealth of critics. On the contrary, his name was the principal focus of post-movie animosity.
And I get it — in the midst of warfare, Gale turns attention to his sometimes-in-the-right-circumstances requited affections for Katniss. Some might hate, at these crucial moments, the fact that he's putting so much focus on his heart over his brain, or hate that he has a bit of penchant for conversation that people have, justifiably, claimed is petty and childish. It’s almost as though the character has no respect for the high stakes at hand. And yet, this is exactly why Gale Hawthorne is my favorite part of Mockingjay.
In an otherwise operational story about a rebel force’s military rise against the powers that be, I might join in on the hatred of Gale as a silly distraction from the incredible importance of the main plot. But Gale’s somewhat misguided fixation on his place in the story’s Katniss-centric love triangle becomes a breath of fresh air in the middle of an incredibly long war film that doesn't leave much room for those breaths.
As the rebellion’s plot carries on — taking Katniss and her troupe through obstacle after obstacle, witnessing the loss of soldier after soldier, enduring a brainwashed Peeta’s defect after defect — tactics and motions seem to overpower spirit. Not just within the world of Panem, but in the film itself. By design or not, Katniss and company’s mission feels to the audience exactly as it might seem to the team: bleak, painstaking, and monotonous.
Just as the men and women on the ground do, those watching may occasionally lose sight of what is being fought for. The main motivation to keep going doesn’t seem at all times to be hope or value, but muscle memory. I don’t want to call this a criticism though, since it also works as a possible success of the film. After all, we’re talking about warfare here. It's a notoriously dispiriting concept, no matter how noble a cause you may be defending. In that sense, Mockingjay might be the most accurate war movie released all month.
Still, the tone of the film does weigh heavy on its viewer. Even while you understand how important it is that the rebels continue to fight, it can be tough to stay invested throughout the dark and damp longevity. Every once in a while, you need a break from routine. A return to gentler ideas. An espresso shot of empathy. You need Gale. Though delivered in the tough and towering package of Liam Hemsworth, Gale is the softest accessory that Mockingjay has at its disposal. His pleas to Katniss for some sort of sign about their relationship might ring as annoying, but those same pleas also allow us to return to the lighter side of humanity in the midst of war. During the tactic and strategy, we’re given occasional reminders of what it’s like to feel and breathe, a la Gale Hawthorne. And, for my money, Hemsworth is no slouch in the department of landing these sentiments.
Yes, Gale has got his down moments, such as devaluing human life in the name of the cause. But, by and large, what he contributes to this black hole of a final chapter is something it otherwise lacks and desperately needs: light. More than that, he contributes life. Life occupied by things like love and jealousy. The kind of life we recognize, against the backdrop of a whole world blending with war. We need to cling to these ideas of life, in movies and beyond. Pain in the ass though he may be, Gale gives us that chance.