Is Snow really on top? “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” review

  • Post Author
    by Talk
  • Post Date
    Mon Dec 11 2023
Photo Credit: Murray Close

Written by Ray Kirsch

This piece contains spoilers for “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.”

There's a new mysterious, blonde man that has taken every teenage girl by a storm: Tom Blyth, one of the lead actors in “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.” Newly released in mid-November, the movie has gained a lot of traction on TikTok for its blossoming romance between Coriolanus Snow and Lucy Gray Baird and the drama that follows the Hunger Games.

Based on Suzanne Collin's 2020 novel, “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” occurs 64 years before the Hunger Games that Katniss Everdeen appears in. It is the year of the 10th annual Hunger Games, and Coriolanus Snow is an academy student that just wants his family to be wealthy and powerful again. The war and his father's death had been hard on his family, leaving him to live with his cousin Tigris and their grandmother. 

The 10th Hunger Games are announced with Dean Casca Highbottom (played by Peter Dinklage) revealing which students would be mentoring each tribute. Snow is assigned to Lucy Gray Baird (played by Rachel Zegler), a teenage girl from District 12. Lucy Gray doesn't feel she necessarily belongs to District 12 as a Covey, a group of musical performers that traveled across Panem. 

Lucy Gray sings at her reaping after putting a snake down the dress of the mayor's daughter and being hit for it. Snow meets her when she enters the Capitol and is put in the Capitol Zoo with her by accident. After a series of incidents and accidents, Snow realizes that Lucy Gray needs to sing to get the sympathy of viewers and develops a proposal for donors to send food to tributes in the arena. 

Lucy Gray, to everyone's surprise, wins the Hunger Games, but only because Snow had secretly cheated to help her. Gamemaker Dr. Gaul (played by Viola Davis) is immediately suspicious, and when she finds out about Snow's involvement, she banishes him as a Peacekeeper in District 12. Lucy Gray and Snow meet each other once again. However, there are some events that lead to Lucy Gray needing to run away from District 12 (I won't spoil!), and Snow decides to go with her. There are trust issues, Snow may have shot his gun at her, Lucy Gray runs away from him and Snow returns to the Districts without knowing if Lucy Gray is really alive or not. 

Photo Credit: Lionsgate

It's a long synopsis, but there was a lot more going on than what I just wrote. But it reads almost like the movie felt: how do you fit an entire movie that was running at full speed into just a few paragraphs? Collin's novel is 528 pages long, and let's keep in mind that the original three Hunger Games books were split up into four movies. With the pace that this movie was running at, I am surprised that they did not split it into two movies or a show. 

Beyond the pacing, the movie focuses more on the relationship between Snow and Lucy Gray for a majority of the time. There aren't gory, drawn-out moments of people killing each other like the originals had. This time, we see more of the Capitol's perspective of the games as Snow mentors Lucy Gray and watches her in the arena with the rest of the mentors and more prominently, Dr. Gaul. 

But is this movie really a love story? One could argue that Snow really just wanted power and money—it is definitely more highlighted by his internal monologue in the book. Was Snow really in love with Lucy Gray, or did he just like the attention that her success in the Hunger Games gave him? 

Without his internal monologue from the book, viewers may have been surprised when Snow started shooting guns at the sky when he thought Lucy Gray was running away from him. However, it's not really that uncharacteristic of him. He was possessive of her the entire time and wanted to control her. The movies make it clear that he is going a little crazy because he doesn't know where she is and is scared she's trying to kill him, but the viewers don't really get the sense that he's been manipulative the entire time until they get to his buzzed hair part of the movie (or unless they read the book). 

As much as I disliked the pacing of this movie and some of the left out plot points (Clemmy, for example), I have to appreciate the quality of the production. The scenes were filmed nicely, Rachel Zegler's singing was incredible and the “parts” of the movies were separated well. And as for much of a bad person that Coriolanus Snow is, Tom Blyth did a fantastic job at playing him. 

I personally enjoyed seeing the Hunger Games from the side of the Capitol as opposed to the original lens of Katniss in the first movies; it also was interesting to see how the Capitol had developed between the prequel and the original movies. I entered the movie expecting to fall in love with Coriolanus Snow as many had stated they had, and I found myself loving Rachel Zegler's acting of Lucy Gray Baird even more when I left. 

Did Snow really land on top? I suppose only he will truly know. I would love to see his internal thoughts when Katniss Everdeen showed up and started singing the same songs as Lucy Gray, though. 

Overall, I rated this a 4.5/5 on Letterboxd because of how nicely it was produced. At a second watch, I would likely rate it a 3.5/5 because of some of these missing points.