Do external influences like environment and situations factor more in shaping a person’s entire worldview? Or is it the inherent willingness to give in to a side—freedom of choice—that plays the decisive role? The prequel feature of the Hunger Games trilogy, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, adapted from the novel of the same name written by Suzanne Collins, asks these age-old questions as it traces back the origins of Coriolanus Snow, the former President of Panem whose reign of tyranny was ended by ‘Mockingjay’ Katniss Everdeen and her comrades.
The key attractions of the main Hunger Games series were how the central class conflict intrigue was showcased through interesting characters, theatrical flair, unique dystopian world-building, and the brutal yet vivid open-world battle royale signifying the titular game. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, however, misses out on most of these aspects in its effort to jam-pack two disjointed narrative structures into one lengthy feature. The arcs for the leads are as confusing as some of the vital creative decisions of the movie, and the makers fail miserably to justify the venture’s association with the Hunger Games franchise by straying away from the grandiose of open-world spectacle. As a result, a star-studded cast adorned in utilitarian clothing doesn’t serve the symbolic purpose of the story, merely reminding viewers of their lost potential, like many contemporary nostalgia cash grabs.
How Did Coriolanus Get Associated With Hunger Games?
As the movie begins, viewers are taken to the Capitol, the central and only metropolis of Panem, during the late years of the Dark Days and three years before the Hunger Games began. As series fans must remember, through a prolonged period of time, the seat of central governance—the Capitol—was under attack during the uprising of 13 other districts of Panem who revolted against the bloodsucking aristocracy and the dictatorial regime. Later, their revolt was suppressed by the iron fist of Panem governance, and the districts were forced to submit to rigorous servitude, and the Hunger Games was conceptualized as a result to remind the districts of the result of insubordination. Coming back to the narrative, viewers are introduced to young Coriolanus and his cousin Tigris, both of whom belong to the elite Snow family and are part of the Capitol’s old guard. During the cataclysmic war, Coriolanus and Tigris have first-hand experience with the nature of hunger as they witness a person hacking a corpse apart in order to survive. No sooner does the shock of such a spectacle dissipate, does young Coriolanus learn about another tragic event: the death of his father, the head of the family, General Crassus Snow, at the hands of the rebels. The Snow family loses its fortune over time, and the only surviving members of the family—Coriolanus, Tigris, and Grandma’am (the elderly guardian figure)—spend the next decade in a vain attempt to recapture the family’s lost glory.
After thirteen long years, a teenager named Coriolanus, now a soon-to-be graduate student at the most prestigious, elite educational institute in the country, the Academy, is determined to stand up to the dreams of his family members. According to the rules, the most academically remarkable students (Coriolanus is one of them) will be awarded a significant fortune, which will allow Coryo to not only reinstate the Snow family’s glory but also continue his education further. However, much to his dismay, the rule has been changed from this very year under the guidance of morphine addict Academy head Casca Highbottom, who is also credited as the creator of the infamous Hunger Games. The viewership of the barbaric battle royale has hit an all-time low, and it is on the verge of being canceled within only the tenth edition of the game. This is why, according to Capitol governance, for the first time, top-ranking students are required to act as the mentors of the teenager tributes of the districts who will participate in the Hunger Games, and the final victor and their mentor will be rewarded accordingly.
As the reaping ceremony begins, the world is introduced to the tributes of the districts of the tenth edition of Hunger Games one by one, and viewers meet the eponymous ‘Songbird’, Lucy Gray Baird, a tribute from the 12th district, a member of a wandering nomadic musician group known as Covey. Coryo gets the duty of Lucy’s mentorship, and during the reaping ceremony, her dramatic flair and act of defiance to the Capitol by singing instantly attract the attention of the viewers. Coryo, who is desperate to win the game, takes this as a positive sign, and before meeting Lucy Gray in person, Coryo is advised by Tigris to win her trust by staying honest and showing efforts to protect her.
Who Wins The Tenth Hunger Game?
Coryo makes a desperate attempt to win Lucy’s trust by sneaking his way into the tributes’ cage, and as the event gets media attention, he presents Lucy in front of the world in a way that attracts public sympathy. Later, in the Academy, Highbottom threatens him with suspension for violating the rules of the governance and the institution, but Coryo appeals to the judgment of the sadist, despicable chief game maker (who created the games as well) of Hunger Games, Volumnia Gaul, as he suggests incentivizing public emotion for the tributes through mingling with them. Considering that Coryo’s suggestions to make the stakes feel personal to the public can actually revitalize the games’ viewership, Gaul entertains Coryo’s idea of mentors intermingling with tributes. This allows Coryo to supply food to the captive tributes, thereby earning the trust of Lucy, but things take a nasty turn when one of the tributes attacks and kills Coryo’s batchmate, herself dying in the process at the hands of the Peacekeepers.
Adhering to Gaul’s demands, Coryo presents more suggestions, but his study partner, Clemensia, takes credit, which results in disastrous consequences as Gaul uses her experimental scent-guided snakes to expose her lies and incapacitate her. Later, as the tributes and mentors join in the arena, where the games will take place, rebels bomb the place, and despite having a chance to escape, Lucy Gray chooses to stay and save Coryo—an event that convinces Coryo of Lucy’s intentions. The night before the main event, he sneaks rat poison to Lucy in his mother’s necklace, instructing her to use it when the situation calls for that step. Coryo also instructs her to escape to a secured underground location of the arena during the game, as he is not convinced that Lucy has the wits or might to survive the brutal ordeal. Lucy’s singing takes her public reception to a positive high, prompting donations from the elites of the Capitol, much to Coryo’s fortune.
One of Coryo’s close friends, the starry-eyed idealist Sejanus Plinth, gets punished for speaking against the brutalities and injustice of the authority by having his tribute fatally beaten and left hanging even before the game begins. As advised by Coryo, Lucy escapes with another 12th district tribute, her friend Jessup, who unfortunately was infected by rabies previously during the inhumane transportation to the Capitol. Coral, an especially vicious tribute who was jilted by Lucy getting special treatment by her mentor and the crowd, starts hunting her while butchering her way into the arena. One of the female tributes, Lamina, puts Sejanus’ tribute out of his misery by mercilessly killing him.
That night, Sejanus makes a daring attempt at defying the authorities by moving into the arena while the remaining tributes are distracted, and he pays his respects to his fallen tribute, who used to be his friend during his early life in the 2nd district. Gaul informs Coryo about the situation and promises to ensure senior Plinth’s gratitude in return. While saving his friend, Coryo gets into a scuffle with a tribute and brutally kills him. In a moral crisis, Coryo shares the event with his cousin, Tigris, who assures him of her faith in him and advises him not to give up on his innate goodness. Little does she know, her cousin has gotten the first taste of power from the very incident—an addiction that inadvertently pulls him to the lowest of lows.
The next day, Jessup’s rabies infection overcomes his senses, and he attacks Lucy. With the assistance of one of his mentor batchmates, Coryo is able to put him out of his misery by orchestrating his death. With the deaths of most of the survivors as the game draws to a close, Gaul announces a form of retribution on the rebels for their previous attack and decides to end the game with no survivors by putting her experimental snakes inside the arena. However, Coryo manages to sneak his handkerchief carrying Lucy’s scent, which makes her immune to the snakes. The rest of the surviving tributes, including Coral, fall prey to the snakes, with Lucy singing amidst the horde of snakes, creating another pathos-inducing moment for the public. Thereby, despite Gaul and Highbottom’s reservations, due to public outcry, they had to declare Lucy and Coryo the victors. Unfortunately, Coryo’s deceit is exposed by Highbottom, and he is sent to serve in one of the districts as a peacekeeper as a means of exemplary punishment. Although he is initially assigned to serve in the 8th district, Coryo bribes the operators to transfer him to the 12th district instead, in the hopes of meeting Lucy Gray.
Did Coriolanus Survive The 12th District At The End?
Sejanus Plinth, who has mistaken Coryo’s act of bravery in saving him as a sign of brotherhood and considers him to be idealistic and sympathetic to the people of the district like himself, joins his side as he too is serving time for previous insubordination. In the 12th district, Coryo reunites with Lucy Gray, and the duo professes their feelings for each other, finally contemplating a life together. Initial rough patches seem to smooth out as Coryo’s remarkable service earns him a chance to undergo officer training and return to Capitol to his family with honor and fortune. Although Lucy Gray shares her intention to settle down with Coryo in the idyllic valleys outside the reach of Panem governance, Coryo is determined to make his way back home.
Things gradually take a problematic turn when Coryo finds Sejanus in cahoots with the rebels, and he reprimands him for it, fearing a troublesome situation that might jeopardize his own future prospects of return. He states that, unlike Sejanus, his family has no way to buy his way out of the system, and just by knowing him, Coryo is at risk of committing treason. Obviously, Sejanus doesn’t pay heed to him and drags himself further into the rabbit hole. To stay on the safe side, Coryo informs Gaul about the recent developments through voice-recorded jaybirds.
Later, Coryo finds Sejanus unwittingly involved in a rebel conspiracy, along with Lucy’s former lover Billy Taupe, his partner, the mayor’s daughter Mayfair Lipp, and Spruce, a local of the 12th district. Unknowingly, Lucy followed Coryo to the spot as well, and a heated altercation ensued, which ended with Coryo killing both Mayfair and Billy. The weapons were hidden by Spruce. Coryo convinces a horrified Sejanus to keep his silence and plans with Lucy to escape from the district once and for all. However, Spruce is caught by the Peacekeepers; the conversation recording sent to Gaul incriminates Sejanus as well, and both of them are hanged to death. Coryo laments the death of his friend, but eventually makes up his mind to escape with Lucy.
As they venture out, It is revealed that Lucy has learned about Coryo ratting out Sejanus, and as they arrive in the faraway shack in the wilderness, she presents him with the weapons—the last piece of evidence that can prove Coryo’s involvement in the entire situation. However, Lucy no longer trusts Coryo for obvious reasons and leaves him, and a suspicious Coryo follows her in the wilderness only to get bitten by a snake, getting even more deluded thinking Lucy planned to kill him and frantically tries to find her to no avail. Eventually, Coryo returns to the 12th district after dumping the evidence, joins his post, and climbs his way through the ranks to eventually return to the Capitol. Gaul takes Coryo under her wing, and it is evident that under her tutelage, Coriolanus Snow will turn out to be the future tyrant who will change the course of Panem’s history. After successfully reinstating his family’s lost glory through the Plinth family’s fortune (after the demise of their only son Sejanus, they basically consider him their heir), Coryo goes to meet Highbottom and learns that it was his own father, General Crassus, Highbottom’s friend, who decided to implement the games, which just came as a pastime drunken idea to the Academy’s dean. The ensuing cruelty and barbarism made Highbottom jaded and feel guilty for conceptualizing such a thing, and he blamed Crassus throughout his lifetime, resulting in his deep-seated hatred for the Snow family. Coryo leaves after listening to the confession, not before slipping poison into some of the morphine vials he offered him. The movie ends with Coriolanus Snow looking at the statue of Justice installed in front of the academy, signifying the complete transformation of his ideology regarding its values.
The fate of Lucy Gray remains unknown, much like the muse of Wordsworth’s Lucy poems. What is certain, though, is that Coriolanus’ transformation into the eponymous snake has been completed through a series of acts where his own choices are more responsible than anything.