“Taking the kids from our districts, forcing them to kill one another while we watch – this is the Capitol’s way of reminding us how totally we are at their mercy. How little chance we would stand of surviving another rebellion” (Collins, 18)
In the book, President Snow is not described as Donald Sutherland looks. On page 71, ” The president, a small, thin man with paper-white hair, gives the official welcome from a balcony above us” – noting his positioning is important. The book handles this character differently than he is handled on screen. The symbolism of him and what he wields is similar, but there is more of his influence, more of his voice in the movie portrayal by Sutherland. We hear him more, while in contrast, we get more of him in the following books of the trilogy.
President Snow is the face behind the message of oppression. He is the symbol of violence and of fear. It is more difficult to hear him in the novel because it is told from Katniss’ point of view. The change, coming in the form of the movie, is that the audience has the opportunity to connect with other characters and, through camera angles, expressions and directorial techniques, elements outside of Katniss’ feelings can be illustrated with feeling, with compassion with understanding. The movie gives us more of Snow’s actual voice, his power, his ruthlessness. It is less up to the audience to imagine, as it is in the text, and more apparent as we see it on screen.
We hear his (Sutherland’s) voice in the movie as it provides the background noise for the propaganda promoting The Games:
War, terrible war. Widows, orphans, a motherless child. This was the uprising that rocked our land. Thirteen districts rebelled against the country that fed them, loved them, protected them. Brother turned on brother until nothing remained. And then came the peace, hard fought, sorely won. A people rose up from the ashes and a new era was born. But freedom has a cost. When the traitors were defeated, we swore as a nation we would never know this treason again. And so it was decreed, that each year, the various districts of Panem would offer up in tribute, one young man and woman, to fight to the death in a pageant of honor, courage and sacrifice. The lone victor, bathed in riches, would serve as a reminder of our generosity and our forgiveness. This is how we remember our past. This is how we safeguard our future.
The Capitol has more of a presence in the movie, we understand the thinkings of President Snow in a more explicit way. He is there, rather than just mentioned and thought about, as he is in the first book.
President Snow is the character who represents the power in this narrative. He is the controller, the puppet master. He is the oppressor. President Snow represents the wealth and the insecurities of the Capitol. He leans on his power and his influence to protect what he has – the opulence, the freedom, the opportunities. He wields this power by controlling the districts, separating them, dictating their knowledge, injecting them with fear and boundaries. Warnings through peacekeepers, the avow characters (those who have come out of line and been silences forever), and of course, through The Games. Important to seem secure in his rule, Snow recognizes that his fortress is not without spaces of weakness. He fears organization, he warns against too much hope.
Snow instructs his head Gamemaker to contain the spark of hope that Katniss has managed to produce. There is the fear that it will spread through the districts. There is the fact, that as Seneca Crane does not contain the spark to the liking of Snow, he is forced to take his life. The ultimate punishment for something Snow considers the worst element against the power structure he resides over.
It’s interesting that when looking further beyond the movie, the artistic element that Snow’s words have taken. The irony of it is that Snow does not see this hope as a positive thing. He sees a necessity in a reminder of hope – the fact that there is one child who remains, as the other eleven are slaughtered. He sells this as hope to the districts. It’s a lottery, an almost impossible hope. Out of context, however, designers have introduced his words from the script into artistic representations.
These words are part of a speech that do not appear in the pages of the text. They are a message that was added to the movie script. Now, we can use a snippet of Snow’s message to Crane (before he has him killed, when he disappoints him), to decorate our lives. We act out of hope or out of fear, from a place of love or a place of despair. These words have been made pretty so they can be pasted onto our timelines, mounted on our walls, cut out for our fridges or manipulated as computer wallpaper. The irony is that these are the words Snow threatens his people with. He is so opposed of offering hope that death is the result when the possibility of hope becomes too high. What does this say when in popular culture the end of his speech is forgotten. The context of his message is forgotten? Perhaps it gives power to the knowledge that hope is the power that the districts have over the Capitol. And it is that hope, that power that culture wishes to embrace, perverting the message that Snow actually intended.