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Fire is catching: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes reignites The Hunger Games Renaissance

Marco Willy
The Mockingjay pin from the series “The Hunger Games.”

It has been 12 years since Katniss Everdeen first took to the arena and captured the hearts of the on-screen Capitol citizens and tweens who watched with their mockingjay pins and side braids at the ready. Yet, following the conclusion of “The Hunger Games” saga on Nov. 20, 2015 with the release of “Mockingjay: Part 2,” those who grew up with the series were forced to sit and accept the conclusion of one of the greatest works of dystopian fiction. 

However, that same audience saw a spark from the dormant Panem when Suzanne Collins published “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” in May 2020, simultaneously launching a countdown until the story hit theaters. Luckily for fans, their wish was granted with the release of the movie’s trailer on Apr. 29. After a summer of anticipation and an autumn season filled with Peeta Mellark fan edits on TikTok, the movie finally premiered on Nov. 17, nearly eight years after the conclusion of the original narrative. To say the least, the return to The Districts was well worth the wait.

The tragic tale follows the origin story of  President Coriolanus Snow, who was seen as a madman with a nasty cough and too much power by Katniss in the former movies. Nevertheless, in this iteration, he is a quaff and attractive young student who rises from an impoverished version of The Capitol outskirts with the hope of going to study at university. To rise to success, he tackles the new challenge of mentoring a tribute from District 12 during the tenth annual Hunger Games. Naturally, like any teen drama, he falls in love and does everything he can to ensure her success in the arena. This imposes drastic consequences for the ambitious Snow that ultimately ends with him forsaking his emotions for a lifetime of prosperity and cogency. 

At first – and potentially throughout the film – the viewer could find some sympathy for Snow; they are exposed to one of the most brutal backstories observed in Panem which illustrates that even those in the richest portion of the nation suffer tremendously from the war that occurred a decade prior. Aside from the support of his cousin Tigris, a fun character callback to “Mockingjay: Part 2” that substantially expands the story, he has the odds stacked against him with only one chance for victory: the games.

Speaking of the games, the portrayal of the tenth Hunger Games serves as an interesting juxtaposition to the 74th one that we see with Everdeen and her slew of accompanying competitors; the tournament Snow witnesses is poorly organized with many tributes not even making it to the arena. From the deplorable conditions that they are kept in within the confines of the local zoo to the bomb that rocks the entire coliseum, these elements can in no way compare to the lavish penthouse and secure arena we saw in the primary movie. 

This vagueness potentially opens up a door for Collins in the future to expand “The Hunger Games” universe if she so chooses. Audiences would love to know what happened in the 64 years between the reign of gamemakers Dr. Volumnia Gaul and Seneca Crane.

These kinds of mysteries fuel this film from beginning to end. We know Snow becomes a dictator in the end, but what drove him to such lengths? Do we root for him in this moment or hold our applause because we know what he becomes? His character, which is phenomenally played by Tom Blyth (Donald Sutherland in the original saga), makes it difficult to decide. Until we see him reach the peak of his thirst for power when he tries to kill his love, Lucy Gray Baird, it is difficult not to cheer Snow on.

Quandaries like these bleed over to multiple characters that we see in the movie. From Snow’s friend turned loose end Sejanus Plinth to the cunningly beautiful but threatening Lucy Gray, choosing who to root for becomes increasingly challenging as the run time ticks down. Even the other tributes in the arena who we witness being treated like livestock, the audience is forced to choose between cheering on Baird or the tiny Wovey and sickly Dill who are each too young and too vulnerable to kill. All of this is punctuated by brilliant quips from Lucretius “Lucky” Flickerman, the weatherman turned announcer and icon who brings some warmth to this otherwise cold film.

With Snow’s inner dialogue that is littered with insanity is missing from the film adaptation, viewers face even more of a moral dilemma than they would when reading the books. Other things that carried over well from the novel include Collins’ attention to current cultural norms (like how District 12 and Lucy Gray hold a mirror to customs seen throughout rural Appalachia) and the commentary on where the evils of greed can lead a civilization. The team behind the movie also did a wonderful job bringing the pages to life from the costuming to the special effects, those who watch will be enthralled by the detail and its bleak whimsy.

Some things that were in the book that were cut in the film include Baird’s kill of Reaper, the District 11 boy who memorialized his fellow tributes and was consumed by snakes, and the intricate details behind Dr. Gaul and Dean Casca Highbottom, the main antagonists who fuel Snow in one way or another. However, since it has been confirmed that there is an hour of footage that did not make the final cut, perhaps an alternate version of the movie shines a light on these missing details. With the movie’s pacing jarringly alternating between a crawl and a sprint depending on the stint you watch, this edit may be for the best. 

In spite of this, “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” may not be for the faint of heart both physically and mentally, but it is a piece of thought provoking content that will keep viewers on the edge of their seat for its full two hour and 38 minute length. While it would be helpful to watch “The Hunger Games” and its predecessors beforehand, unfamiliar minds can still grapple with the plot and leave entertained but still plagued with questions in the best way possible. 

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About the Contributor
Laken Kincaid, Editor-in-Chief
Laken Kincaid is the Editor-in-Chief for The Carroll News from Beckley, West Virginia. They are a senior at John Carroll University who is double majoring in political science and communications (digital media) and minoring in leadership development. Laken has written for The Carroll News since the start of their freshman year and has previously served as a staff reporter, campus section editor and managing editor of the paper. They have received 18 Best of SNO awards, a Society of Professional Journalists Mark of Excellence award for Region 4 and two honorable mentions from the College Media Association. They have also been recognized by universities like Georgetown for their investigative reports. Additionally, they also write political satire for The Hilltop Show and feature stories on global poverty for The Borgen Project. In addition to their involvement with The Carroll News, Laken is involved with the Kappa Delta sorority, the speech and debate team, the Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion, the Improv club and other organizations. They also serve as the news director for WJCU 88.7, John Carroll's own radio station, and as the president for John Carroll's Society of Professional Journalists chapter.  Laken also started their own national nonprofit organization known as Art with the Elderly which they have won the President's Volunteer Service Award and the Humanity Rising Award for. When not writing, Laken can be found doing graphic design for their internship with Union Home Mortgage or working as a resident assistant and peer learning facilitator on campus. Laken also enjoys skiing and watching true crime documentaries. In the future, Laken hopes to become a political journalist for a national news organization or to be a campaign commercial editor for politicians. To contact Laken, email them at [email protected].

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