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Snow lands on top in ‘The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes’

Shavonne Chin

You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain. That is the only way to summarize “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.”

Based on the book of the same name by Suzanne Collins, the movie follows the story of 18-year-old Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth), during the year of the 10th annual Hunger Games, 64 years before the events of the original “The Hunger Games” trilogy.

As someone who loved the story of Katniss  Everdeen and Peeta Mellark as a young teen, I was halfway expecting to straight up hate anything related to the President Snow that I knew from the books.

Oh, if only I knew how wrong I was.

Blyth’s performance was enthralling. Book-to-movie adaptations usually struggle to show the emotions that the reader can easily pick up on from the pages, and considering half of the book is just Snow’s inner monologue, Blyth had his work cut out for him.

And yet, the man captured my attention the second he showed up on the screen and didn’t let go until the end. Snow is such a complex character — a chameleon — playing a different role with everyone he talks to, hiding in plain sight.

Even surrounded by bigger names in the acting industry, such as Viola Davis (Dr. Gaul) or Peter Dinklage (Dean Highbottom) and their phenomenal performances, Blyth shined in his own light, making sure we remember whose story we are watching. Because it was his.

“The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” is not about the beautiful singing from Rachel Zegler, her parallels to the beloved character of Katniss or the tragedy of poor, naive Sejanus Plinth — the supposed best friend of Snow and his perfect parallel.

Lucy Gray Baird (Zegler), Sejanus (Josh Andres Rivera), Dr. Gaul, Dean Highbottom and even Tigris Snow (Hunter Schafer) ­­— ­­ ­while incredibly important – are nothing more than side characters, explanations as to how Snow grew from being “Coryo” – best friend, lover and cousin – to “President Snow” — traitor, abuser and murderer.

That is not to say the actors’ performances should be overlooked. Zegler was everything that one could want in Lucy Gray. She was witty, charming and beautiful and played off of Blyth incredibly well.

Olivia Rodrigo’s “Can’t Catch Me Now,” which appears on the film’s soundtrack, summarizes who Lucy Gray was to Snow and her lasting effect on the man practically perfectly. We never learn what happens to her and any speculations about the character won’t ever get confirmed.

She’s finally free and neither Snow or the Capitol can’t catch her and control her anymore.

Even though the movie omitted a good majority of how deep and complex the relationship between Snow and Sejanus really is, the casting of Rivera was a great choice and the addition of mockingjays echoing his last words, powered by the theater audio, was a bone-chilling experience.

Sejanus was the one to die a hero, while Snow lived long enough to become the villain.

While the movie works well as a stand-alone – so no, technically you don’t need to see the original trilogy to go see it, though if you still haven’t seen the trilogy, which rock have you been living under? – the nods are there for every fan to enjoy.

Familiar surnames in Snow’s classmates in the Academy, like Arachne Crane (Lilly Cooper) or Hilarius Heavensbee (Florian Burgkart), and lines such as “It’s too early for katniss” or the moment when you hear the voice of older Snow saying “It’s the things we love the most that destroy us” as the movie ends, rose goosebumps across my skin.

And I just cannot not mention Lucretius “Lucky” Flickerman (Jason Schwartzman), who was exactly who you’d expect him to be, as the ancestor of Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci).

One thing I wished the movies focused on a little more is the “Hanging Tree” ballad and the new symbolism this story gave it. Lucy Gray — arguably the love of Snow’s life — being the one that wrote the song that becomes the anthem of the rebellion that ends his reign? Talk about poetic justice.

I could sit here and write about all the other details the movie missed or changed from the books. I could describe how Tigris’ character wasn’t explained properly, how the tributes’ deaths were changed, how the timeframe was slightly rushed and how the movie barely even named all of the members of the Covey.

I could, but I’m not going to.

Because even though I am usually the first one to point out the differences between books and movies and how those differences often do injustice to the books — hence why I usually do not enjoy these adaptations —none of those details were the focus here.

No, the focus of this movie was the young man who did everything he could to ensure he would be the victor; to be the one who can control everyone and everything, including himself, because life taught him anything less than that is dangerous.

After all, Snow lands on top. 

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Alexandra Martinakova
Alexandra Martinakova, Editor-in-Chief

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