In the woods waits the only person with whom I can be myself. Gale. I can feel the muscles in my face relaxing, my pace quickening as I climb the hills to our place, a rock ledge overlooking a valley. A thicket of berry bushes protects it from unwanted eyes. The sight of him waiting there brings on a smile. Gale says I never smile except in the woods.”
Gale Hawthorne, who Liam Hemsworth will bring to life on the big screen in March, is Katniss Everdeen’s soulmate. Sound overblown? Sorry. There’s no other way to put it. They hunt together, take care of their mothers and siblings together, and are each others only refuge from the impossibly harsh, undernourished life of District 12. They even look alike.
Katniss, even given her brilliance with a bow and arrow, struggles to find enough food for her family of three (Katniss, her mother, and Prim); but, Gale has five mouths to feed because of his three younger siblings. Illegal hunting and bartering at the Hob, District 12’s black market, isn’t enough, so he has to trade tesserae for grain and oil to keep his family alive. Each tessera makes you a little more vulnerable in the lottery that determines who is chosen for the Hunger Games–one more chance to be sent to a nationally televised grizzly death, or worse. Over the years, Gale has had to to trade so many tesserae for food that this year his name will be in the lottery 42 times. A normal eighteen year old’s name would be in the lottery only 7 times.
When Hemsworth give us his Gale, he will have to do a lot of work with very little dialogue. But, this is good casting. Liam has played this sort of character before–the strong, quiet, good-hearted type. First there will be the lovely, private scene in the woods (quoted above) that sets up Gale and Katniss’s connection and the genuine sense in which they are each other’s refuge from the brutal, undernourished world of District 12. Then, there will be not nearly enough time to say goodbye and put things in order before Katniss has to be whisked away to the games; but, she and Gale will communicate volumes in quick glances. Shortly after the film begins, Katniss will be in another world far, far away from Gale, and so will we, the audience.
But, Gale is never far from Katniss’s mind while she’s in the games. Often, when she thinks about how she is being portrayed in the broadcast version of the games, she worries about how she will appear to Gale. How will Gary Ross direct this dynamic? How will we have a sense of Katniss’s concern for how she appears, particularly to her family and to Gale? How will we know how Gale perceives her “performance?” We will have to stay in the dark about Gale’s reactions for most of the film, just as Katniss will. But, if Ross and Hemsworth do their jobs, we may have a better sense of how Katniss will appear to Gale than Katniss does. One of the delicious aspects Suzanne Collins well written novel is built into Katniss’s underdeveloped self-awareness and limited capacity to make sense of the people around her. Like Gale, we can often see her more clearly than she sees herself.
So, Hemsworth is a great choice for the role, since he’s shown that he can play many of Gale’s characteristics; but, he has some work to do, too. Gale is not just the good, strong, silent type. He’s also angry with the world, overwhelmed by responsibilities he never asked for, and has a terribly short fuse. In the novel, we can see Gale’s heart through the battered surface of his toughened skin; but, will Hemsworth know how to make it shine through? I suppose we’ll find out soon enough.