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“The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” is a thought-provoking addition to the popular franchise

Snow lands on top, but at what cost?
%E2%80%9CThe+Hunger+Games%3A+The+Ballad+of+Songbirds+and+Snakes%E2%80%9D+was+released+on+Nov.+17%2C+2023.+Based+on+the+popular+novel+by+author+Suzanne+Collins%2C+the+film+has+grossed+over+%24300+million+globally.+
Murray Close
“The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” was released on Nov. 17, 2023. Based on the popular novel by author Suzanne Collins, the film has grossed over $300 million globally.

Disclaimer: This review contains spoilers.

“The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” is the long-awaited prequel to the “Hunger Games” trilogy. The movie is set in Panem, a futuristic United States, 10 years after the Districts lost their uprising against the Capitol. As a punishment for their rebellion, each year, a girl and a boy from each District are chosen to fight to the death in the Hunger Games. 

The main character of the film is Coriolanus Snow, played by Tom Blythe, who later ascends to the Presidency of Panem and becomes the villain of the original trilogy. However, at this point in time, he is just an orphaned teenager — albeit one with a lot of ambition and incredibly blonde hair — attending school in the Capitol. As part of a class assignment, Coriolanus is told to serve as a mentor for Lucy Gray Baird, the tribute from District 12, who is played by actress Rachel Zegler. 

“Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” featured 17 tracks throughout its runtime of two hours and 38 minutes.

Zegler embodies Lucy Gray — sharp, spirited and undefeatable. We are first introduced to the character at the Reaping when she is chosen for the Hunger Games. True to its name, the movie is indeed a ballad. Lucy Gray launches into a seething rendition of “Nothing You Can Take From Me,” a defiant rebuke towards both the Capitol and her cheating ex-boyfriend. 

In less capable hands, a character randomly launching into song in the middle of a tense scene could be cringe-inducing. But Zegler is able to flesh out all of Lucy Gray’s characteristic pomp and sass, all while subtly painting her undertones of fear and uncertainty. Although online haters have relentlessly criticized Zegler following her role in “Snow White,” much like Lucy Gray, she cannot be silenced. 

While Blyth and Zegler gave masterful performances, some side actors left me underwhelmed. Vipsania Sickle and Coral were reminiscent of Disney Channel bullies — snobbish, cartoonishly mean and quite annoying. However, others, like Sofia Sanchez as Wovey, left me and the rest of the movie theater at the edge of our very nicely cushioned seats in suspense. Many scenes throughout the film brought us close to tears as characters fought just for a chance to survive. 

However, if I were to judge the film simply by the wave of TikTok edits it has left in its wake, I would think it was a romance. Coriolanus and Lucy Gray share a deep connection forged in the trauma of the games, often characterized by distrust and jealousy, that eventually results in him trying to kill her. Murder notwithstanding, their chemistry is undeniable. 

Without Coriolanus’ ever-manipulative inner monologue, something that readers of the book can attest to, his psychopathic, controlling nature is not clear in the movie. Rather, the cold villain we met in the original “Hunger Games” trilogy is shown in a more sympathetic light, complete with genuine tears over his friend’s death and several swoon-worthy scenes with Lucy Gray. This Coriolanus is not the President Snow responsible for the deaths of countless children in the Hunger Games but a teenage boy looking to support himself and his family. Although he has unhinged moments throughout the film, his true nature only becomes apparent in the final scenes as he hunts down Lucy Gray, overtaken by paranoia and lust for power.

Torn between loving and hating Coriolanus, viewers are left with a sense of moral ambiguity. There are no black-and-white answers; was Coriolanus evil all along? Or was he simply a product of his childhood, growing up destitute after his father was killed by rebel forces? 

This ambiguity extends to the other members of the Capitol. In the original trilogy, Capitol citizens were very much enamored with the showy spectacle of the Hunger Games. In contrast, this movie takes place during a time when many still reject the inhumanity of the games. Characters like Tigris Snow, Sejanus Plinth and Casca Highbottom profess their hatred for the show. When Lucy Gray is left as the last tribute alive, surrounded by venomous snakes, the Capitol students watching her demand that she be released. The transformation of Capitol society into a grotesque place that somehow accepts children killing each other as entertainment is terrifying. 

The moral gray of both Capitol citizens and Coriolanus himself forces us viewers to reflect on ourselves in a world where we are increasingly desensitized to tragedy. We have the luxury of caring about who Taylor Swift is dating or what sports team won last night’s game while wars wage overseas. We can watch brutality occur across the world on our phone screens and simply scroll to the next post. Viewers watching from the comfort of a first-world country, armed with a bucket of popcorn, must consider that we are the Capitol. 

The magic of “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” is that it makes us question whether we could ever accept this level of cruelty. In the right circumstances, could we be conditioned into believing that the Hunger Games are justified? While the concept seems so outlandish and dystopian now, the film illuminates how we are already numb to so much violence in our world. As Volumnia Gaul, Coriolanus’ mentor and an architect of the Hunger Games, states: “See how quickly civilization disappears?”

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About the Contributor
Serena Liu, Editor-in-Chief
Pronouns: she/her Grade: 12 Years on staff: 3 What is your favorite piece of literature? Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut Who is your hero? My mom! She’s the most incredible person I know and also she reads my stories so she might see this. If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be? Mac & cheese all the way.
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  • W

    Will GonsiorJan 11, 2024 at 8:51 am

    SERENA I LOVE THIS
    you totally nailed it
    thank you
    presentation, character analysis, style, pure unadulterated awesomeness, all there

    also mini rant the main difference between the Capitol and the USA is that the US is (in the post Cold War era at least) fiercely protective of its sphere of influence and less prone to turning states into vassals like the Capitol does. It’s easy to lump the USA and Panem together, because no country has ever been a global hegemon without a few war crimes. (And “a few” is definitely a low estimate when discussing those two particular empires.) But that underscores the point of American hegemony, which is that the alternative is worse. Hegemony by America is deeply corrupt and flawed; very not fun. Hegemony by the Capitol (or China for that matter) would be dystopia. I have now completely detatched myself from the wonderful point you were making about how we Americans are deeply desensitized to violence and that our belief in “civilization” is a veil to hide how terribly brutal we are. You are absolutely, frighteningly correct.

    that rant was not as mini as i thought it was going to be was it

    Reply
  • E

    Emily EarlyJan 10, 2024 at 4:17 pm

    best review to ever review ever

    Reply
  • L

    Lauren HolcombJan 10, 2024 at 4:07 pm

    more like the ballad of songbirds and snATE. bc you ate. yay <3

    Reply