On Saying Farewell to Katniss & Peeta

Today, in the United States, it is Thanksgiving Day.

One week ago, though, in IMAX theaters across the land, it was Katniss Everdeen’s Day.

Much to President Coin’s chagrin.

For those of you acquainted with Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy, whether in print or on the big (and I mean, big) screen, you know exactly what I mean.

For those of you not acquainted with it, or at least with Jennifer Lawrence’s/Josh Hutcherson’s/Liam Hemsworth’s incarnation thereof:  good Lord, where have you been buying your groceries this past month?

Sure enough, I was there, Opry Mills theater, right off the Briley Parkway, Nashville, Tennessee, USA, far too close to the screen, but there you have it.. Wouldn’t have missed it. I had to see if the ending was going to disappointment me.

It didn’t.

Interestingly, though, just the week before I’d spoken with a journalist about my old posts on the books, written around the time of the first films. He was surprised that I was as gung-ho on the books’ ending as I was.

“I think a lot of people thought it was a let-down,” he told me.

I suspect he’s right.

Was I let down that Dr. Aurelius, the psychiatrist in the book, never made it to the big screen?  Sure.  I’m a shrink, after all. It was our big moment, and to end up on the cutting floor? Another day at the office, I guess.  Next patient, please.

Just the other day, David Brooks, a columnist for the New York Times, wrote an op-ed piece entitled “Tales of the Super Survivors,” in which he stated (quite well, I think) the idea that one recovers from trauma only by learning to tell new stories about life, stories that must take into account the truth of the world, yet which must have the optimism to see beyond those truths.

I think he’s right, of course. I did find his tone a bit on the chipper side for my taste, admittedly. I’ve attended one too many funerals in my day, I guess.

Still, he’s right.

And Katniss and Peeta knew that as well. After all they had gone through, all they had left was home, back in what was left of District 12, in houses whose grandeur evoked the memories of all the smiles and largesse forced upon them by a government that had rather found them both dead in those beds they curled up in, nightmare-night after nightmare-night.

All they had left were the stories to be lived of Haymitch sober, of Annie and Finnick’s son, of primroses growing in gardens Prim would no longer tend, of an ugly cat, of a love, whether or not it was ever “not real,” that became so quietly real.

Does love conquer all? God, I wish it did. Too many veterans return to homes that, even though not on the edge of a genocide zone, do not have the luxury of quiet that the Everdeen-Mellarks were eventually afforded.

Narratives are easier to re-write, after all, when there’s a steady supply of food on the table and a warm-bed-for-life on the second floor.

Yet, in the end, love, connection, friendship, a willingness to let something in life matter again, someone in life: they are all that the traumatized veteran of War has. Treatments will come. Treatments will go. Sadly, in many parts, treatments never even come in the first place.

But to take the chance to love again, to love a man who once tried to strangle you, yet who endured your bite to keep you from swallowing pills of death (the one book scene I wish could have made it into that movie scene of the “execution’s” aftermath)? Katniss did.

To take the chance that the memories you worked so hard to retrieve could leave you once again, like that young lad outside the bakery on a cold night, tossing a loaf of bread to a beautiful girl rather than to a pig, without anything to show for it but a broken heart and a maybe an occasional wild turkey brought in from the woods and left at your doorstep to cook up that night if you wanted to invite, what, maybe Haymitch over for a beer–or nineteen? Peeta did.

You know, the high-drama-guy in me wanted to shed a tear or two as I watched Peeta giggle with that little blond guy in the field at movie’s ending, as Katniss recited the book’s ending to the baby in her arms, as the two of them looked at each other and knew—and yet lived and loved and smiled anyway.

Perhaps because it was only about a week after JD’s funeral, I couldn’t.

Yet I was happy for them, those two fictional characters, yet still, two veterans of horrific wars, ones televised live and overanalyzed, two young veterans, slowly growing older, with nothing more to show for it than love and a willingness to play different games.

Thank you, Ms. Collins, for your books and for your care over the films. Thank you that even when there are worse games to play, there are always better stories to tell.

For that, the fictional ones and the real ones, all of us can whisper, “Thanksgiving.”

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