Study Guide

The Hunger Games President Snow (Donald Sutherland)

President Snow (Donald Sutherland)

We've never seen the devil smile, but if we did, we figure he'd look a lot like President Snow. The sinister leader of Panem may carry the basic vibes of a jolly old Santa Claus, but he's got some blood-red claws under that snowy beard, and he doesn't mind flashing them when he needs to.

If you read Machiavelli's The Prince, you know what this guy's about. We'll give you the short version: he's powerful because he likes power, and everything he does he does to hold onto his power. He's very, very good at politics, and doesn't hesitate to kill if his control is under threat.

He'll kill his associates as well as his enemies, as he does at the end when he delivers the poison berries to Seneca Crane. He has to make sure that the people he rules understand their place and never have cause to question him.

Hence, the Hunger Games, a nationally broadcast blood-sport that suitably distracts the masses while he keeps on enjoying the good life and ruling with an iron fist.

It's fairly ingenious actually, and though he didn't invent the Hunger Games, he sure knows how to use it. Here's his explanation to Crane as Katniss stubbornly refuses to die in the games.

SNOW: Seneca... why do you think we have a winner?

CRANE: What do you mean?
SNOW: I mean, why do we have a winner? I mean, if we just wanted to intimidate the Districts, why not round up 24 of them at random and execute them all at once? Be a lot faster. Hope.

CRAN: Hope?

SNOW: Hope. It is the only thing stronger than fear. A little hope is effective. A lot of hope is dangerous. A spark is fine, as long as it's contained.

CRANE: So...?

SNOW: So CONTAIN it.

He uses the Hunger Games as a weapon against the people, giving them just enough hope to soldier on while reminding them that the Capitol still calls the shots in everything. He's got it down to a science, and he knows exactly how to deploy it for maximum impact.

Except we're pretty sure he overplays his hand. In his effort to stop the danger that Katniss represents, he ends up making her a bigger threat than she might otherwise become. She's an underdog, but thanks to Haymitch, Effie, and Cinna in the Capitol, people like her. They've played the media game well. Snow has to shift gears fast if he wants to stay ahead of it, as he explains to Crane:

CRANE: Everyone likes an underdog.

SNOW: I don't.

So he tries harder to kill her… but not just kill her. She needs to die in a way that his regime finds useful. He doesn't want her to be a martyr, for instance, or appear to be killed by arbitrary rules. He might even want her to live, provided that he breaks her good and proper and she ends up drinking herself to death like Haymitch.

So, he makes mistakes.

Or rather, Crane makes mistakes trying to enact his policies and he has Crane murdered. Katniss unhelpfully refuses to die, and the Capitol's hypocrisy is made loud and clear by changing the rules at the last minute and then changing them back:

ANNOUNCER: Attention. Attention Tributes. There has been a slight rule change. The previous provision allowing for two victors from the same District has been revoked. Only one victor may be crowned. Good luck, and may the odds be ever in your favor.

Suddenly, what was supposed to reinforce his power has created a girl who presents a danger to it; there's nothing Snow can do about it.

If this was a less classy movie, he'd be slinking away at the end like Snidely Whiplash, muttering, "Curses! Foiled again."

Instead, the look on his face says it all.