By Grace Hogsten
In a world of never-ending cash grab franchises, “The Hunger Games” series stands out thanks to its engaging characters, violent action scenes, and political commentary.
The newest installment, “The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes,” is a meaningful addition to the story and — with a release date eight years after the previous installment — is not rushed or redundant. The film is based on Suzanne Collins’ 2020 book of the same name and is a prequel to her bestselling “The Hunger Games” trilogy.
According to Vox, “Driven by its two charismatic leads…sharp writing, and well-executed storytelling, the prequel finds a way to be as thoughtful and agile as the best of the series.”
The film takes place 64 years before the original trilogy’s heroine, Katniss Everdeen, first entered the arena. 18-year-old Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blythe) is not yet the president of Panem, but a Capitol student struggling to make ends meet and fulfill his ambitious dreams.
Coriolanus’ plans begin to go awry, however, when he learns that each Capitol student will be assigned a tribute from the Districts to mentor for the tenth Hunger Games. He is introduced to District 12’s female tribute, Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler). Lucy Gray’s compassion and courage challenge Coriolanus to see the complexity of Panem and the games as he searches for his place within them.
The film’s cast includes an assortment of captivating characters: inventive and sadistic head game-maker Dr. Volumina Gaul (Viola Davis), district-born Capitol student Sejanus Plinth (Josh Andrés Rivera), and Coriolanus’s cousin Tigris (Hunter Schaefer). Each actor has their moment
to shine, whether their character is plotting about how to make the games more entertaining or starting a rebellion within the Districts.
Despite the suspenseful battle royale scenes, the film’s main focus is on Coriolanus’ descent into villainy as he becomes the formidable President Snow from the original “Hunger Games” series.
According to Vox, the film “isn’t an exoneration of the character, but rather a deep and riveting look at power [and] the lengths people are willing to go to achieve it.”
Though the movie tells its story mainly through Coriolanus’ perspective, Lucy Gray frequently steals the show. From District 12 to the arena, Lucy Gray sings to capture Panem’s attention and emphasize the autonomy she retains despite the Capitol’s best attempts.
According to Vanity Fair, the songs Lucy Gray performs throughout the film are inspired by Collins’ conception of “dystopian Appalachia,” which “was inspired by several sources, including the English Civil War and turn-of-the-century mountain music.”
Using her beautifully powerful voice, Zegler sings her way through the movie’s emotional ballads, which perfectly combine original lines from the book with melodies reminiscent of folk music.
Fans are quick to compare Lucy Gray and Katniss, since they are both female winners from District 12. The two characters are similar, yet their differences are evidenced in the ways they fight the Capitol’s oppression.
“Lucy Gray is a performer forced to fight and Katniss is a fighter forced to perform,” Zegler said in an interview referenced by Time.
“The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes” is not a repetitive continuation of the original story, but a self-contained story with a strong narrative arc that highlights new aspects of dystopian commentary.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Photo Caption: Academy-Award winner Viola Davis portrays Dr. Volumina Gaul, the vicious game-maker who influences Coriolanus throughout the film.