Movie review - ballad of songbirds and snakes


In the dystopian world of Panem, where each choice defines destinies and the division between good and evil is blurred more often than not, “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” dives into the core conflicts present in the entire Hunger Games franchise. Themes of desperation, morality, and the human condition are revisited by diving into the origin story of the tyrannical President Coriolanus Snow, the originator of the state of the Games that we saw in the main franchise. For ASCIT’s annual free movie night held on November 19th, 2023, Caltech students were teleported into the world of the twelve districts and the Capitol to follow along as Coriolanus goes from ambitious student to cold-blooded manipulator.

General Plot Overview and movie overview:

The narrative follows the life of Coriolanus Snow from a brief snapshot of his childhood experiences during the war, including starvation and witnessing cannibalism, to his fervent efforts in early adulthood to escape poverty. The film shows the essence of a man pushed to the brink, fueled by ambition for power. The portrayal of Coriolanus, sometimes affectionately nicknamed Coryo, skillfully navigates the thin line between evoking sympathy and condemning the actions he eventually perpetrates. As Cole Shimokaji (Ph ‘24, Avery) notes, “I almost felt bad for him, but then I remembered he becomes President Snow and murders a bunch of people.”

For a generation familiar with the original Hunger Games trilogy, “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” teleports us back to an older, less grandiose version of the Games. The battle royale to the death is still there, used as a fear tactic for controlling and punishing the Districts. The film pretty closely follows the book released in 2020 (or so I’m told), but it occasionally falls to a high level of predictability, introducing familiar tropes such as the overly moral nonconformist close friend and “the one that got away”. As a prelude to the rest of the series, the movie (and the book) don’t leave much room for future installments, especially as there are no other books at this time.

The film’s soundtrack complements the narrative seamlessly. The theme song, written by the ever-popular Olivia Rodrigo, although not in the movie itself, adds depth to the overall experience of the movie’s release. The Songbirds motif shows itself in the music credits as the main character, Lucy Gray Baird, leans into her identity as a singer and performs multiple times throughout the movie, putting actress Rachel Zegler in the top artists on the official album.


On a level similar to a high school sophomore’s English class, “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” presents a variety of symbols and themes to analyze. The dichotomy of songbirds and snakes, the nuanced characters embodying both, and the symbolism behind Lucy Gray’s affinity for snakes offer ample material for exploration. The film prompts reflection on trust, familial influences, and the human capacity for both good and evil.

The intricate details, such as Cornelius Snow’s conflicted relationship with firearms and the echoes of his father’s fate (shot in the woods), contribute to the film’s depth. Cousin Tigris’ acknowledgment of Coriolanus becoming his father, the interplay of snakes and poison, and the overarching question of the purpose of the Hunger Games and how Coryo’s answer changes also illustrate how President Snow reached his chilling breaking point.

“The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” ultimately is a classic dystopian thriller, providing a look into the origin story of the seemingly unreadable main antagonist of the main Hunger Games series, and making the audience wonder - in the end, isn’t there at least a little bit of songbird and at least a little bit of snake in each of us?