This 'Hunger Games' prequel explores the early life of series antagonist Coriolanus Snow as he slowly transitions from hopeful youth to ruthless villain.
By CHIN JIAN WEI
President. Tyrant. Villain. These words have been used to describe Coriolanus Snow, the antagonist of the Hunger Games series. But he was not always like this. Even the worst despots can start off young and idealistic. Tom Blyth stars as an 18-year-old Snow in this prequel to the original movies, The Hunger Games: A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Set 64 years before the events of the first Hunger Games movie, the story takes us through the events surrounding the 10th annual Hunger Games, the titular game where teenagers fight to the death in a battle royale.
Snow, being the last hope for his once-proud family, aims to win the prestigious Plinth Prize, which would rescue his family out of poverty. However, to do so, he must act as mentor to the tribute in the latest Hunger Games, a songstress named Lucy Gray Baird (played by Rachel Zegler). As a mentor, he needs to do his best to ensure Lucy Gray garners the support of the masses and survives the ordeal. However, Snow and Lucy Gray’s romantic feelings for each other complicate things, as the pair get entangled together in the deadly games.
The supporting cast includes Hunter Schafer playing Tigris Snow and Josh Andrés Rivera playing Sejanus Plinth, Snow’s only friend, both of whom form the moral centre of the tale, trying to ground Snow in an increasingly darkening world. Peter Dinklage is effortlessly memorable as Casca Highbottom, a dean at Snow’s school and once-friend of his late father. Dinklage portrays Highbottom’s pathos and malice convincingly, painting a picture of a man who has let his regrets turn him bitter. Viola Davis steals the show as Dr. Volumnia Gaul, the mastermind of the Hunger Games. Gaul is at once eccentric and terrifying, delighting in her scientific innovations even as she plans to unleash said innovations on innocent children. Behind her warm smile is a cold, calculating, absolutely ruthless mind.
Unlike most blockbuster movies which showcase a character arc, in which the protagonist matures and becomes a better person throughout the course of the story, A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes features a negative character arc where Snow is changed by his experiences with what he perceives as the true face of humanity. This is a coming-of-age story with a dark twist, as a boy learns that to be a man in this world, he must strike first before he is unable to strike at all. While he initially justifies his actions as purely for his and Lucy Gray’s survival, he becomes increasingly ruthless and uncompromising. Slowly, he becomes more and more like the tyrannical President Snow of the original movies. In several ways, Snow’s arc brings to mind the gradual corruption of famous characters like Michael Corleone from The Godfather and Walter White from Breaking Bad. Just like those characters, Snow’s personal relationships also end up suffering due to his drift into darkness.
Lucy Gray is the emotional centre of the movie, played with an easy charm by Zegler. There is no love triangle in this movie, In the face of overwhelming oppression, her songs manage to move even the cold hearts of the Capitol citizens. Many of these scenes hit with genuine emotion, the pain in her voice palpable as the lyrics speak of proud defiance and bittersweet love. The songs are also genuinely good, worthy of repeat listens after the movie.
Even after the games are over, the movie continues into the next part of Snow’s life. This is the part where some audiences may have their qualms with the movie. This is a long movie, clocking in at 2 and a half hours, and some may feel that it drags on a bit. This writer, however, believes that the length is necessary to convey the myriad ups and downs of Snow’s life, and it is only in this later part that we get to feel how much Snow has changed since the beginning of the story.
Overall, despite some parts that may divide audience opinion, this writer wholeheartedly recommends this movie even if you are not a fan of the original movies. You don’t need to have that prior knowledge to appreciate this story, a tale of how desperation and ambition can drive people to do increasingly horrible things until they become unrecognisable.
Catch The Hunger Games: A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes in cinemas near you!
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