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The metamorphosis of Coriolanus Snow

Spoilers for The Hunger Games: A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes; mentions of violence.

A villain is made from an innocent soul shattered to the point their humanity is forgotten. An enraptured audience feels compelled to watch this slow descent into madness, the arc of a villain so brutally destroyed. The prequel film for The Hunger Games trilogy, A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, is the perfect example of this. Anticipating its release on Nov. 17, an influx of Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth) thirst edits flooded TikTok to a degree that nearly rivalled the inescapable circulation of the 2014 Josh Hutcherson edit

To anyone familiar with the original Hunger Games trilogy, this response may be perplexing. President Coriolanus Snow, the maniacal mastermind who perpetrates the notorious Hunger Games, forces the districts to shackle children in a death battle as punishment for the districts’ attempted rebellion. A manifestation of pure malevolence, he spearheads the government which orchestrates these games as entertainment for the rich and frivolous. Why, then, is an entire storyline dedicated to his journey?

Villains serve as foils to protagonists, compelling them into the journey through which they unearth their heroism. However, an audience will always desire the omitted narrative uncovering how a villain came to be. We crave, more than anything, complexity in characters. Thus, the attraction of A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes lies in its obsessive examination of Coriolanus Snow’s infamous origins. 

A character who renders an audience conflicted is rare; to do this in the face of pre-established hatred is even more extraordinary. Most viewers walked into the theatre expecting some maudlin backstory, poorly attempting to justify Snow’s horrific actions against innumerable innocents. They found, instead, an earnest young man with a desire to provide for his impoverished family. A golden-haired youth with his heart in his throat at the thought of twisting a jubilant performer into a murderer, merely to appease the Capitol. Looking at the child-like innocence of a boy, simple and caring, inspires empathy in the audience. Within the film’s first 20 minutes, Coriolanus joins the tributes as the Capitol displays them in a zoo cage to gain his tribute, Lucy Grey’s (Rachel Zegler) trust. From the moment she enters the arena, Coriolanus shackles himself to his monitor, raw anguish reflected in his eyes. This heart-wrenching moment reminds the audience that he too began as a child victimized by a perverse post-war system of “reform.” 

The film details Snow’s descent into depravity. Key moments progressively dismantle him until he splinters into the man we know as President Snow. The first flicker of his character comes when he bludgeons a tribute to death in self-defence, shocked by his loss of control. As the film progresses, each death makes the steps toward darkness easier. In a climactic fit of rage, discovering Lucy’s betrayal, he attempts to kill his love. So far, Lucy has served as a metaphorical representation of his heart and with this act he attempts to extinguish the final ounces of his morality. This marks the definitive shattering of his integrity, facilitating his metamorphosis from the innocence of Coriolanus to the malevolence of President Snow. 

The Head Gamemaker of the tenth games, Dr. Volumnia Gaul (Viola Davis) asks Snow what the purpose of the Hunger Games is. He replies, “The whole world is an arena, and we need the Hunger Games to remind us who we are.” Now enthralled in the confines of the games, Coriolanus sees himself as the Victor willing to do anything and everything to come out on top. With a corrupted soul, Snow falls into the footsteps of his father (who incited the idea of the games), no longer the bright-eyed boy with a golden heart and curls. We exit the theatre with the cold pang of loss. The last fringes of our hope for him flicker out with the cinema lights; we should have known better.

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