Nearly a decade since the release of the last “Hunger Games” movie, “Mockingjay – Part 2,” there’s a new installment in the series. Based on Suzanne Collins’ 2020 prequel novel of the same name, “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” released in theaters earlier this month to an underwhelming opening weekend, but its box office success since then signifies the Hunger Games’ lasting popularity.
The film follows arguably the franchise’s most hated character, dictator-to-be Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth), on his quest to rebuild his lineage’s glory. To do this, he becomes a mentor in the games — a show where twenty-four tributes fight to the death — and helps Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler), a feisty and charming singer.
The beginning of the film departs from the autocratic and sadistic Snow of previous films, instead depicting him as a loving cousin and caretaker of his family. Unlike the rest of his classmates, he befriends Sejanus (Josh Andrés Rivera), a compassionate outcast who criticizes the games. And when he falls for Gray, his efforts to save her during the games — which include cheating — seem to stem from love.
Without knowing Snow’s future as the head of an oppressive elite, audiences cheer for him, hoping that the odds are ever in his favor. Maybe the two lovers will reunite, and Snow, along with Sejanus, will dismantle the games and spare future generations.
Instead, Snow succumbs to ambition and greed for power. Out of cunning and secrecy, he murders three people, including his only friend. After assuring Sejanus that they are “brothers” and he will “take care of him,” Snow sacrifices Sejanus to protect himself once Sejanus admits to helping a group of rebels escape Panem.
He views his relationship with Gray with a sense of ownership. Gray is his songbird, not allowed to escape his cage. Once Gray escapes his grasp in their final fight, Snow descends into a violent rage, shooting down a cloud of mockingjays.
He finally forsakes Tigris (Hunter Schafer) and the rest of his family and leaves to study under the movie’s villain, Dr. Gaul (Viola Davis), a ferocious gamemaker who upholds the games at all costs. This fills in Tigris’ previously ambiguous backstory as an abandoned fashion designer with no past in “Mockingjay.”
Conveying the nuance of Snow’s character certainly posed a challenge, which the movie overcame beautifully with the use of double meanings, foreshadowing and symbolism. Of course, the complexity becomes muddled at times, creating a sense of whiplash. Without an insight into Snow’s actual thoughts, the sudden transition from protagonist to antagonist is awkward.
Despite this shortfall, “Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes,” remained true to its source material, refusing to redeem Snow or add sympathy, and served as a warning of how easily humanity can cross the line between heroism and villainy.
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Mylien Lai is an assistant arts editor at The Spectrum. Outside of getting lost in Buffalo, she enjoys practicing the piano and being a bean plant mom. She can be found at @my_my_my_myliennnn on Instagram.