Prequel to The Hunger Games series, The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes is written by Michael Lesslie and Michael Arndt, directed by Francis Lawrence, and is based on the novel The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins. It follows Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth) as a young man who does everything in his power to keep his mentee, Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler), alive in the 10th annual Hunger Games. But the film isn’t just about him trying to keep her alive.
As we watch him, we see that Coriolanus is also trying to survive.
Before we go on, shoutout to the cast of this film, especially the heavy hitters that they brought in. Viola Davis is amazing as the slightly mad gamemaker, Dr. Volumnia Gaul; and Peter Dinklage, who plays the Dean Casca Highbottom, commands every scene he’s in, ever.
“I love stories like this that expose what humans are capable of when it comes to their survival.” I wrote that in my review for another film, Concrete Utopia, so it’s no surprise that I really enjoyed The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. I knew I was going to love it too; from the moment I saw the trailer. Granted, I didn’t remember a lot about the first Hunger Games series, but I did remember President Snow as the unhinged leader who forced kids to kill each other. So, when the trailer showed me a young Coriolanus Snow who seemed to really care, I went, “oooh, I need to see what makes him turn.”
When we start the film, Coriolanus is trying to keep up with his wealthy Capitol classmates, even though his family has lost everything. He has his sights on the Plinth prize so he can go to university, and the only way he can get it is if the tribute that he has been assigned as a mentee survives the games. So, he plays to win. In the middle of this, he and Lucy Gray form a relationship that we all know is not going to last, based on who we know he becomes and who Lucy Gray is. She is from a family of travelling musicians, sees the good in everyone and is truly a ‘lover, not a fighter.’ We get the impression that if they had met under different circumstances, if Coriolanus didn’t feel like he had a lot at stake, they could have lasted.
But Coriolanus had worked really hard to be at the top, and he wasn’t just going to let it all go, no matter who he betrayed to keep his position. In the film, he says “it’s the things we love most that destroy us.” Even though Coriolanus didn’t start out ‘evil’, his actions were driven by what he desired the most: status and power. And watching the film, you understand why he goes after those things. He wasn’t just doing it for him, he saw this as a way out of lack for his family.
The film alludes to Coriolanus being in his own Hunger Games of sorts, and I think this line in the film really summarizes his arc, “Fuelled with the terror of becoming prey, see how quickly we become predator?”
There is so much going on in the world right now (isn’t there always?) where people are playing to hold on to power, regardless of the destruction it takes to get there. There are communities destroyed and people dead right now because other people do not want to lose. The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes reminds us of how the consequence of this way of living goes beyond the present. When someone plays to win in a system that hurts them, soon enough, they become the person hurting others. It’s a scary thing that makes peace elusive in a world that is ‘kill or be killed’.
In his trying to survive, we see Coriolanus gradually dampen his empathy until we end up with a man who can operate and even spearhead this system without difficulty.
The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is available in theatres on Friday, November 17th, 2023.