Far from the outcome of the star-crossed lovers of District 12 in the original franchise, the love story in “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” ends without romance.
A theme within the film, which is adapted from Suzanne Collins’ prequel novel, involves the values of trust over love. Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth) and Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler) are thrown together by fate at first, then they grow to depend on each other. But do they actually trust one another? Producer Nina Jacobson, who also produced the original “Hunger Games” movies, said that’s up for debate.
“It’s something we talked about a lot. I hope that audiences will debate sort of, at what point do they trust each other, if they trust each other at any point. Does one trust the other more?” Jacobson told TheWrap. “I would say even within our group we have disagreements — which I love — about whether he trusts her and when he trusts her, whether she trusts him and when, but I love the impact of that moment in which you see yourself through somebody else’s eyes and the impact that has in shaping who he becomes.”
Director Francis Lawrence looks at the relationship as both a romantic one as well as one based on trust in a transactional way.
“The love story is key. It’s a very central part of the story. We tried to play it like it is in the book, but I think the key for us was really sort of modulating the sort of mystery of this love affair,” he told TheWrap. “It’s two people that are sort of drawn to one another, attracted to one another, but it’s a relationship built out of mutual need. With mutual need, it’s not always trustworthy, right? Because he needs her to survive, and then she needs him to survive. Is there sort of a magnetic pull? Yes. But how much do they truly love one another? Not so sure.”
Another gray area within the couple’s dynamic lies in their capacity for good and/or evil and their inclination toward one or the other — songbirds representing the good and snakes representing the bad.
“I think most people would say that Snow is a snake and she’s a songbird. The truth is that they both have a little songbird, they both have a little snake, which I think makes them interesting,” Jacobson said. “This is an origin story of a villain, but we start with a young man who is not a villain. He’s not fully formed, he doesn’t believe in the philosophies yet that the Snow we know believes in. He’s a kid who’s like trying to survive and trying to put food on the table for his family. His family’s fallen from grace, and he’s got to hide this from his entitled classmates. And so he’s struggling, and he’s a kid that you can kind of get behind and sort of root for.”
Just as Snow doesn’t start out pure snake, Lucy Gray has venom hidden within when she needs to use it.
“Suzanne always thought it was critical to keep at front of mind that Lucy Gray is not a pure songbird. We see early on that she has her own connection to snakes and that we are all both, they are both. There are shifting moments where those qualities take the fore or step to the back” Jacobson added. “I think that having a character who is still — as many people are, my kids are — around this age, you know, you’re being formed. [Snow] has been pulled in these different directions, and I think even though we know how he’ll turn out, we keep hoping that somehow it might go another way, but it doesn’t, and I think audiences from when we show the film really love that moment where he finally becomes the man he will be.”
The moment the trust — and Snow’s heart — get broken occurs in the woods beyond the districts in the third act of the film.
“Without saying too much, I do think that as that moment plays out, and he sees himself through eyes not his own, it’s central to why he becomes the man he does,” Jacobson said, praising Tom Blyth’s acting. “His performance is so complex. His ability to hold a close-up and tell a story with his face is remarkable.”
“Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” is now in theaters.