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The Sunflower

REVIEW: ‘The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes,’ a necessary, if not underwhelming, character study

Photo+courtesy+of+Lionsgate
Photo courtesy of Lionsgate

I’ve had to remind myself multiple times that in order to be fair in my opinions of “The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes,” I have to let go of the expectation that the movie would give me the same “feel” as the original story of “The Hunger Games.”

A revival of that nostalgic, early 2010s dystopian atmosphere was why I was so excited for this movie to come out. However, I’ve made peace with the idea that it serves a different purpose. 

“The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes” follows Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth) and his role in the 10th Hunger Games. When Capitol students are assigned tributes to mentor before the games, he is paired with a flighty, musically talented Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler) from District 12.

As the games and their aftermath unravel, Snow finds himself caught between his feelings for Lucy Gray and climbing the steep social ladder of the Capitol.

Knowing Snow’s fate in “The Hunger Games” makes it clear which he chose. In its role as a prequel, “The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes” tells us a little more about why Snow hated Katniss Everdeen so much — to him, she was a threat to Panem’s security, but just as much to his need for control. To Snow, she was just like Lucy Gray, who Snow quickly learns will not be as easy to bend to his will as his life of “moves and countermoves” in the Capitol. 

The illusion of life together away from Panem fades when Lucy Gray flees from Snow without telling him, sending the Capitol-bred boy into a rage that solidifies his decision to choose power over love. 

The pair never really had a shot at a future together because, outside of the arena, Lucy Gray was no longer under his control. Panem’s system may be cruel — but it is consistent and unwavering in its rules and therefore much easier to conquer for Snow. 

This movie did its job in fleshing out all the gory details of President Snow’s backstory, but the book, of course, does a better job of depicting just how calculating and obsessive he is. Suzanne Collins made this part of Snow impossible to ignore with lengthy descriptions of Snow’s cold, scornful thought processes before each action.  For most of the run time, I felt that the movie made Snow out to be a pretty normal, ambitious student — which isn’t helped by the online craze over Blyth.

I know “the book was better” is a cliche that no one wants to hear, and a movie would obviously have a harder time depicting a character’s inner thoughts than a book would, but I expected more. I wasn’t truly feeling Snow’s self-serving craziness until that final scene of him emptying his rifle into the trees as Lucy Gray’s voice echoes around him. 

The last half hour of the movie justified this story’s existence as a prequel to “The Hunger Games” for me. With Snow accepted back into the graces of Capitol life and Lucy Gray in the wind, there is no doubt that Snow will spend the next 65 years developing Panem into the world Katniss Everdeen faces in the original trilogy.

With an incredible cast (special love for Hunter Schafer and Viola Davis’ performances) and impressive costume and set design, I don’t hesitate to say this is an enjoyable movie, and I appreciate the opportunity to step back into the world of Panem. But if you’re looking for that Hunger Games-Divergent-Maze Runner story we all miss and love, you need to be ready to accept that you won’t find it here. 

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About the Contributor
Salsabila Attaria, Arts and Culture Editor
Salsabila Attaria is the arts and culture editor for The Sunflower. Attaria is a health science major.  She previously worked as a reporter and assistant news editor. She uses she/her pronouns.

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