Reviewed by: Alexander Malsan
Film based on the 2020 novel The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins
War is a nightmare
Genetically modified venomous snakes in abundance used for evil purposes
Serpents in the Bible
Extreme selfishness and hypocrisy
The powerful and elite terribly abuse those they consider inferior to themselves.
Parable about America’s rural versus urban schism
Attempting to right a past wrong
What is the Biblical perspective on war? Answer
War in the Bible
Family facing imminent loss of their great social prestige
Fight to the death
Murder by poisoning
Rachel Zegler … Lucy Gray Baird
Tom Blyth … Coriolanus Snow
Jason Schwartzman … Lucky Flickerman
Peter Dinklage … Dean Casca Highbottom
Viola Davis … Dr. Volumnia Gaul
Hunter Schafer … Tigris
Fionnula Flanagan … Grandma’am
Burn Gorman … Commander Hoff
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Lions Gate Films See all »
|Distributor||Lionsgate (Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.)|
“Everyone hungers for something”
Long before Katnisss Everdeen, the Girl on Fire, led the 12 (or should I say 13) districts in the Great Rebellion against the Capitol, there was Lucy Gray Baird of District 12. Of course, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me start from the beginning…
It was the Dark Days in the nation of Panem. The nation was divided into 13 Districts and the Capitol. The people who resided in the 13 Districts provided most, if not all, of their resources and labor for the people who resided in the rich, luxurious Capitol. But the people in the Districts began to rebel against the Capitol, and so the Capitol squashed them—bombing buildings, killing civilians till there was barely anyone left in the 13 Districts.
Rising from the ashes, the people of the now 12 (the 13th district no longer existing) districts rebuilt their homes and their lives, but at a cost. Peacekeepers now flood the streets in each district, and now, every year, an annual Hunger Games is held to remind the districts to never rebel against the Capitol again. The Hunger Games is a ceremony in which citizens between the ages of 12 and 18 are chosen by the elite to fight each other to the death until one victor remains.
Each citizen that participates in the Hunger Games receives a Mentor, and one such mentor is the illustrious Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth). Snow has grand plans for his future. He wants to get out of the gutters, not just for himself but for his mother and his cousin as well. He wants to attend the Capitol Academy in hopes that maybe, just maybe, someday he can live in the Capitol. Who knows? Maybe someday he’ll become President of Panem!
First, though, he must mentor the young Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler) of District 12. She is a bright, musically talented young girl who has never fought a day in her life and has no intention to do so now. That does NOT bode well for Snow. If Lucy loses, there goes Snow’s future of living in the Capitol and becoming something great. But then something amazing happens…
Lucy begins to sing… on television! People just LOVE her. Maybe hope does lay in this Lucy Graybaird. “If I can just gain her trust, then perhaps there’s a chance she could win this and my future is secure,” Snow thinks. But love was something Snow WASN’T planning on either.
Beware of songbirds and snakes…
The first word that popped into my head about this film is “Oy.” There is a lot going for this film, but there is also a lot going AGAINST it. This puts me in a very difficult and position as a reviewer, as I know there are going to be some hardcore Hunger Games and Suzanne Collins fans that read this review, but there will also be those who have never seen a single Hunger Games film or read one of the novels. So, like I have in the past, I have devised a Good and Bad list below to help you, the reader, discern what to take away from this review.
THE PERFORMANCES: While I certainly am not a huge fan of Rachel Zegler, I must admit she puts in an incredible performance as Lucy Gray Baird. Her singing is as mesmerizing and as enchanting in “Songbirds and Snakes” as it was in the most recent “West Side Story” (2021). I couldn’t imagine a more perfect Lucy Gray Baird.
Additionally, Tom Blyth plays an absolutely delightful Coriolanus Snow. Everytime I watched him, I thought, “This man is going to become President Snow. I can see it. I really can” He just embodies a truly young, crafty Coriolanus Snow. Last, but not least, there are some jaw dropping performances from two of my favorite actors in Hollywood, Viola Davis and Peter Dinklage.
USE OF SYMBOLISM: You have to look carefully, but there are some wonderful moments of symbolism. For example, there is a scene where, the tributes are first brought to the Capitol and are dropped into a cage at an abandoned zoo and given very little, if not anything, to eat, and the people of the Capitol (and visitors from other districts) are encouraged to come visit and get a good laugh or taunt in.
I could point out other moments of symbolism throughout the film, such as the great divides between classes, that are just shown in the manner of how characters are dressed, buildings, behaviors, etc., but I don’t want to spoil the fun.
THE MUSIC: As a music educator and musician, I just found the music provided by composer James Newton Howard to be sublime in this film. There were new songs, in addition to songs that were found in the previous films, that really assimilated well with the rest of the movie and didn’t overstay their welcome.
THE VIOLENCE: Oh boy, where do I even start. The violence is graphic, horrendous and just simply appalling. Now I know I’m going to hear the argument “Oh wait, Alex, in Mockingjay Part 2 they killed little children in the Capitol, how much worse can the violence get in Songbirds and Snakes?” or “Oh wait Alex, in Mockingjay Part 1 they killed both the elderly and children and even used poisonous gas to kill people, how much worse can it get in “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes”? Let me tell you how bad…
**Please note not every instance of violence is listed as some is not appropriate** In the very first scene, a man is seen cutting his own leg off (he later dies), and when another man sees this, he eats him. Oh, by the way, children witness the cannibalism going on to which a child responds, “People need to eat to survive.”
A man is seen punching a woman. A tribute, caged up, stabs their mentor with a broken piece of glass. The mentor dies and the tribute is shot by a Peacekeeper. A girl is bitten by a venomous snake (she is seen lying on the floor, her fate is unknown). A tribute is hung and left to bleed out during the Hunger Games. Various tributes are killed in graphic ways with a pitchfork. Someone is mercy killed. A person is dragged through a doggy door and has their legs chopped off (off screen), dying shortly thereafter. A character brutally beats another tribute to death. A character falls backwards to their death. Drones are seen flying and hitting tributes in the face. Someone drinks water laced with rat poison and dies rapidly. Snakes engulf the area and kill the tributes (thankfully those deaths aren’t graphic). Characters are seen being hung during public trials (we hear mockingjay birds flying away mocking the victims final words as they were hung). There is a nighttime brawl. Two more characters are killed. Someone receives a snake bite. A main character is shot. A character drinks a potion and is killed. A rat is seen, bloodied, crushed and half-alive. Vultures are seen feeding on a corpse.
Language: A** and P*ss
Sex: Two characters are seen sharing a few kisses. A female character is portrayed by a trans-actor.
Nudity: A male character is seen shirtless in a few scenes. Characters are seen in bathing suits, and one female is shown in underwear while swimming. Some people are seen showering (waist up).
Drugs: One character is seen addicted to an opioid-like drug (we see him ingest it several times). A character admits he was prescribed an opioid for pain.
Alcohol: Teens are seen drinking at a bar.
Other: Disgusting hypocrisy, lying, cheating, bribery and other selfish and rude behavior are on full display in the Capitol. Starving people and the value of every human life is a joke to its privileged citizens. Those that make the Games care nothing about the lives snuffed out; high ratings and spectacle are their sole interest.
About the fall of mankind to worldwide depravity
What is SIN AND WICKEDNESS? Is it just “bad people” that are sinners, or are YOU a sinner? answer
There are no truly redeeming morals to be found in this film.
At one time, the original Hunger Games book (and film) posed an interesting conversation: how far is the government allowed to control the lives of individuals? How much is too much? Fast forward to today, I ask myself, is that the same question that is still posed by “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” and does that question need to be asked by means of “Songbirds and Snakes”?
To answer this plainly, I don’t think “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” offers any answer to this question or provides any truly genuine reasons for one to allow themselves or their children to be exposed to such a film. The one, and I mean ONE, TRULY REDEEMING character in the film that remains in the film, in the end, just vanishes. In the end, we’re left with Coriolanus Snow, who we all know becomes a vicious, conniving, evil dictator (President Snow) years later in the first Hunger Games film.
In short, “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” provides no hope, no redemption and no real reason to be seen. The violence is extreme and involves teens, so that alone is reason not to see this film. Christians are strongly discouraged from seeing this film. Do something better with your time and money.
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.