The Hunger

November 20, 2015

The hunger came and went. Twilight was released on November 21, 2008. At the time,
The Dark Knight was still lingering down the charts in 345 theaters; we hadn’t seen Harry Potter around since the summer before; The Lord of the Rings moved on but left a few hobbits behind.

Narnia couldn’t take the heat. Shrek, Spider­Man and Pirates of the Caribbean each faded in their third outings the previous May. We could sense a new phenomenon, and come November 2008, we got two in one month. Twilight might even have been the first movie you saw in theaters following Barack Obama’s election; after all, there were two more words to mispronounce in Quantum of Solace’s title.

By the time of Twilight’s third and final sequel, Breaking Dawn – Part 2, Obama had been decisively re­elected, and we were ready to say goodbye to Edward and Bella. You couldn’t remember much of the intervening years beyond a feeling of love that now receded warmly, a mother dimming the light from her child’s door as she slips into the hallway. That March we had gotten our first taste of Katniss Everdeen, wooded and breathless, born immaculate into $400 million as our hero for the second term. Commands we mouthed in darkness: unstill your quiver, Katniss, and let vampires sleep.

Typically, as with Twilight, a franchise starts off slowly before igniting a broader fan base. But The Hunger Games learned a lot from Potter and Twilight — of healthy midnights and $70-­million­-dollar opening days. We knew what it was doing from the start. To the public, its hype might have felt quieter than its YA counterparts, but come March 2012 you could hear it as loudly as “YOLO” echoing down a middle school hallway: echoing into classrooms, one nation clearly divisible as each student displayed their softcover of choice at the top corner of their desk. To whom to do you pledge allegiance: Bella or Katniss?

In November 2013, Catching Fire made good on The Hunger Games’ promise, carrying us further still into the known unknown, further past $400 million. We were excited when the competition opened with water, the tributes arranged in formation of a wicked star; the weekend before Thanksgiving still belonged to Scorpio. But a chill began a year later, in the November of 2014. Looking down at the same wool coat your wore to Twilight, now six years old, you noticed a tear along the elbow’s inseam, elsewhere the lining frayed.

In the arena, a single tear can mean the difference between life and death, and last year’s Mockingjay – Part 1 performed at a surprising decline from the previous two installments, down 21% from Catching Fire’s record haul. The franchise was less interesting without the games, we found, games that felt vital because we had always wanted to play them. Now we were cast out in the shapeless, imitative poverty of the Districts.

Between Catching Fire and Mockingjay, the Hunger Games franchise started to run for office. But for which office, and on what platform? It used to call us up to say “YOLO,” but now it sent us chilly form emails, twice a day at least. “Are you with me?” she would ask in the subject line. There were six months to go before Hillary Clinton announced her presidential bid, but everyone had heard the rumors.

Whatever happens to Mockingjay – Part 2 shouldn’t be regarded as a box office disappointment. Some will call its $114 million opening weekend tragic, falling one million shy of Minions’ opening in July, but others might say, “Remember when the first Spider­Man brought home that number thirteen years ago?” We remember. We were thrilled. Be proud of movies, regardless of their performance; be proud of your stake in them. Whether you’re going to bid Mockingjay a fond farewell or piss on its grave, be proud.

Because letting go of the Hunger Games is more than a game. It’s letting go of a thought lineage around YA properties that really began in 2001, with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. New Divergent and Maze Runner movies will appear for the next several years, dutifully collecting their respective $120 and $70 million payouts, but now they’re ghosts in a hallway gone quiet. A young stranger rushes past, an indistinct hardcover clutched to her chest; it’s her first day of school, and as much as she’d like to stop and listen to those ghost stories, she’s really gotta get to class. Do you even go here?

You’ll be there for Mockingjay, though maybe not for opening weekend. The lights will go down in the theater. Somewhere in the night, Caitlyn Jenner’s limo rolls through Panem. Katniss can’t be your hero for the next presidential term, to whomever it belongs, but you know she wouldn’t have it any other way; she points her arrow true to Thanksgiving 2016, where Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is waiting for Hillary, or Bernie, or Ben. Or Harry.

I have died a thousand years waiting for you…

The final seeds for Mockingjay Part 2 are sown in Century Gothic, the familiar font where everything began. Minutes to go before that last shot, you feel it, and the credits will begin. If you have any tears to cry, now is the time: here where they can be seen, and tasted.

Darling, don’t be afraid, I have loved you for a thousand years…

Text scrolls, the purity of white against black. You reach for your quiver and find it empty — you thought you had one arrow remaining, but it’s all right, Ma, just as well invisible. Instead you raise your three fingers back at Katniss, one last time. Your fingertips graze the projector’s beam of light, intersecting the children on screen. The dancing girl with the dark hair and blue eyes. The boy with blond curls and gray eyes, struggling to keep up with her on his chubby toddler legs. The children remind us that it’s never goodbye. Your wool coat hangs over the empty seat next to you. In a few minutes you’ll get up to leave without it, with and without tears.

I’ll love you for a thousand more…

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