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It Feels Like 2013 Again, a Review of The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

by Oana-Maria Moldovan

We are fourteen again - scrolling through Tumblr, reading Harry Potter, and listening to Halsey while doing so. 

We are fourteen and have posters with bands and movies on our walls while we reblog pictures with burgundy lipstick stains on Marlboro smokes. We are all fourteen and we are all watching, for the first time, The Hunger Games.

Or maybe we are not really fourteen, maybe we are twelve, or sixteen, or anything in between. The age is beside the point. It’s not the age that matters, but the feeling of being at the edge of our teenage years.

And now, after ten years or so, we get, just for a while, for two hours, to feel like that again.

Today, we can still find Harry Potter and Halsey’s songs, but on Tik Tok. 

The posters are long gone - for most - and it’s not cool to smoke anymore. 

However, interesting enough, we are still watching The Hunger Games, like it’s the first time.

Somehow, we are still fourteen.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

On the 17th of November 2023, directed by Francis Lawrence, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes took off in our cinemas, eleven years after the first premier of the first Hunger Games.

Be ready to meet the villain of the story, or, maybe more accurately, the Albus Dumbledore of The Hunger Games - will get to that later.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is, at its base, a novel written by Suzanne Collins and published in 2020. It serves as a prequel to Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy. The story is set in the same dystopian world of Panem, but takes place decades before the events of the original trilogy.

The narrative follows a young Coriolanus Snow, who later becomes the well known tyrannical President Snow we encounter in The Hunger Games. 

Coriolanus is chosen as a mentor for the 10th Hunger Games, where tributes are selected from the Capitol’s youth. He is assigned to mentor a tribute from District 12, a girl named Lucy Gray Baird.

As Coriolanus navigates the act of mentoring Lucy Gray, he grapples with the Capitol’s politics, the real brutality of the Hunger Games, and the societal divisions within Panem. The story explores themes of power, privilege, and the origins of the Hunger Games tradition.

It provides us with a deeper understanding of the characters and the world that eventually leads to the events depicted in Katniss’ story.

We are to understand, from the very first scene, that this is the way a grey character is born. Let’s talk a bit about grey characters in the media, shall we?

The art of making a grey character

It is essential to grasp the distinctions between a grey character and an anti-hero. Although both character types often defy conventional rules and exhibit a degree of moral ambiguity, a crucial difference separates them.

The former aims to depict individuals realistically, showcasing both their flaws and the - occasional - virtues. On the other hand, the anti-hero is a character found in certain narratives who deliberately engages in wrongdoing and sometimes even acts of selfishness for a different type of the greater good, often making personal sacrifices in the process.

If we really are to talk about dystopian worlds, Tobias Eaton from the Divergent series, might just be the guy for us. The cold and sometimes aggressive temperament of the character and his journey are great examples of what an anti-hero is supposed to look like.

But even in The Hunger Games franchise we can easily find some sorts of anti-heroes. Haymitch Abernathy, a former Hunger Games victor and mentor to Katniss and Peeta, is initially portrayed as a cynical and alcoholic character. His abrasive and unconventional mentorship methods, as well as his general distrust of authority, contribute to an anti-heroic image. 

Finnick Odair, on the other hand, is a charismatic and skilled victor in the Hunger Games, but like many others, he is a product of a brutal and manipulative society. His past experiences and the toll it takes on him add depth to his character, and he grapples with moral ambiguities throughout the series.

Now, on the actual matter: our grey characters.

Maybe, the most debated one, even ‘till this day is Albus Dumbledore from Harry Potter. Albus Dumbledore, initially portrayed as a wise and benevolent figure, can easily be considered a grey character due to his manipulative tendencies, secrecy, and questionable decision-making. Dumbledore’s willingness to put children on the front line of a war - for both sides - and his tolerance for prejudice in Slytherin House contribute to the ambiguity of his moral standing.

Similar to Dumbledore, Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings is a wise and powerful wizard who guides the main characters in their quest. However, his actions and motivations are not always clear, and he makes decisions that raise questions about his true intentions.

And now comes our so-called main character: Coriolanus Snow. 

President Snow is a grey character due to his complex motivations. While he serves as the primary antagonist, his actions are driven by a desire for political stability and personal survival.

He believes in the necessity of control to prevent chaos, making him more than a stereotypical villain. His character’s ambiguity and twisted sense of pragmatism contribute to the overall moral complexity of the series.

Similarities in between 64 years

Apart from what people might have thought before the movie came out, Lucy Gray Baird and Katniss Everdeen have close to nothing in common, well except from being able to infuriate President Snow in some capacity.

Rachel Zegler said it best. The Hunger Games is about what happens when you put a fighter in a performance, while The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is about what happens when you put a performer in a fight.

However, this is not to say that none of the “new generation” has nothing in common with the older one. Peeta Mellark - and this might have been Snow’s biggest mistake - is more similar with Lucy Gray than Katniss could have ever been; the cunning, quite manipulative performer that anyone loves for not one exact reason.

In the meantime, Katniss has more in common with Sejanus - that’s also a bit debatable - with the recklessness, free mind and spirit and the over the top - very dramatic - outburst of anger towards any and all forms of authority.

What we know and what we don’t need to

With the risk of giving up - maybe - the biggest spoilers - we see and understand some important things in this movie.

We know that Dr. Volumnia created a monster just for the sake of someone else continuing her legacy. We know that Caesar Flickerman is basically a nepo baby. We know that snow does not always ends up on top.

And we do know that, in a way, we are part of the Capitol, watching the games from the comfort of our cinemas and homes. Quite poetic if you ask me.

However we don't know what happened with Lucy Gray, but that was the whole point, like her song said. She is free and she is not to be found.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is like a time machine, for both President Snow and us, the audience. We see his past, but we can feel ours as well. It's a homage, a beautiful one at that, for everyone's teenage years.

Edited by Emily Duff

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