It's 8:45 p.m. on Thursday night: I call my best friend Michelle from the corner of the small mall in my hometown. “I’m not sure I can do this,” I whisper into the phone. I’m clutching my ticket for a 9 p.m. showing of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 . “Calm down,” she tells me, “the most important thing to ask people is whether they’re Team Gale or Team Peeta. Ask that and you’re set.” I pretend to not know what she is referring to, but we both know I do. I’m a fully grown, adult male and I’ve seen every Hunger Games film and read every page in Suzanne Collins’ mega-smash hit about teens slaughtering other teens in a dystopian future.
Although I'm not a superfan like some people, I know what I'm getting myself into. Narrowing my eyes and setting my jaw, I spot a group of tweens from a distance who seem approachable. “Got to go enter the arena,” I tell Michelle before hanging up.
Adjusting the infinity scarf on an outfit I carefully selected to make me seem less terrifying as I approached small children to ask them questions for a media story, I walk up to three people who, from a distance, look at least seven years younger than me.
I ask, as instructed, whether they’re Team Gale or Team Peeta. Lauren, my new pal in a striped sweater, replies, “I have to be Team Peeta because he looks just like my boyfriend!” Curious as to if this girl was old enough to have a boyfriend or if she was living in a rich fantasy world where she makes out with her Josh Hutcherson poster (because same, girl), I wish them a good night and wonder if they think I’m some psychopath who talks to strangers in order to give off the illusion I don’t see movies by myself.
I spot no Katniss costumes yet, which makes me feel good about my decision to leave my nerf bow and arrow in the trunk of my car.
I buy concessions so that I don’t text too much or get antsy during the movie. I ask the concession girl for a medium popcorn and a beer, because movie theaters sell booze now. She tells me my total is $13, and I ask her if she needs me to sign over my firstborn child, as well, har har. She doesn’t laugh, I’m uncomfortable, but my journalistic instincts tell me to keep peeling away at her layers. “Sarah, is it?” I ask. “Are you team Gale or Team Peeta?” Considering me for a moment she whispers, “I think you mean, am I Team Shirtless Liam Hemsworth or Team Shirtless Josh Hutcherson?” and raises her eyebrows. I walk away from the counter enlightened.
A small girl with a Katniss French braid down her back approaches me and the four empty seats next to me and asks if I’m using them. I tell her they’re all hers, I’m here by myself. She narrows her eyes at me and makes a point to sit her mother between us. Cutthroat.
Johnny Depp is on the screen for a "Coming soon to a theater near you" teaser, proving once again he neither sleeps nor ages. I remind myself to later google the possibility of him being cryogenically frozen after each movie he makes.
Around this time, Gale comes on-screen for the first time, and there is a loud shrill from the audience. I’m not sure if this was me, though, so I sink lower into my seat that smells like Astroglide and stale popcorn.
Philip Seymour Hoffman is on the screen, and the audience is collectively sad; it is palpable.
Katniss is screaming, and I sort of feel like screaming too for spending $13 on popcorn that tastes like cardboard and regret. But the beer's good.
I truly begin to get concerned for the well being of the young, impressionable audience watching this movie. Katniss is tripping over skulls, people are being shot execution-style, and hospitals are being bombed. I steal a look over at my French-braided friend two seats over and she is entranced. Desensitization sets in.
I note that this movie has been going on for almost an hour, and Finnick has not been shirtless once, and I have half a mind to write Lionsgate a strongly worded letter asking for my money back.
I take that "desensitization" comment back. My friend two seats down is crying, Katniss is crying, we’re all crying.
As Katniss kisses Gale, a lady behind me lets out a hopeful sigh. Wait, that was probably me. What am I doing? Who am I?
Now Katniss is singing and I’m cursing Ryan Murphy and Glee and everything having to do with singing because every time it’s used for emotional value it just comes off gaudy and awful. However, I note that Jennifer Lawrence’s voice sounds like a blend of sex and red Skittles and it’s the best thing I’ve ever heard.
The rebels blow up a dam and once again the dams on my tear ducts have been shattered. People in the theater are clapping, I’m sobbing and left to wonder if J Law’s emotional gravitas is that powerful or if the $7 Miller Lite I’ve been sipping on is inordinately strong.
Everyone around me is holding hands with someone or cuddled up. I had no idea violent movies brought out the romantic sides of people. Here I am, a lone figure of solidarity in a sea of teenage hormonal angst as I think to myself: Am I the Mockingjay of this AMC 24 theater?
Katniss gets choked out by a junkie-looking Peeta. Someone whistles the three-note Mockingjay sound that echoes through the theater. I try to stifle a laugh.
As I exit the theater, I wonder where any of the music Lorde curated for the sound track was throughout the film. We hear "Yellow Flicker Beat" when the credits roll, but that's it. I watch the couples walk back to their cars and think how awesome it is that the power of totalitarian governments and Jennifer Lawrence can bring people together like this. Where a grown man can sit in a dark theater all on his lonesome and ride an emotional roller coaster. Where he can approach strangers younger than himself and ask them questions without fear of being pepper-sprayed.
I thought about this deeply on my car ride home, then vowed to find myself a hobby.