Wednesday, February 10, 2016

To Kill a Mockingjay? Was Suzanne Collins "inspired" by Gregory Peck/Harper Lee classic?

A dinner table scene in the 1962 film adaptation of "To Kill a Mockingbird" serves up some of the major motifs in "The Hunger Games" trilogy. Was Suzanne Collins watching?

To Kill a Mockingjay? Was Suzanne Collins "inspired" by Gregory Peck/Harper Lee classic?

The Mockingjay pin, from "The Hunger Games"
The Mockingjay pin, from "The Hunger Games"

Watching the beautifully restored edition of To Kill a Mockingbird on the USA network Saturday night, with its eloquent intro from President Obama,  a touching scene that heretofore didn’t seem all that significant took on a new dimension – as in: was author Suzanne Collins watching this when she dreamed up The Hunger Games?

It’s the scene when little Walter Cunningham (Steve Condit) --  a struggling farmer’s son whose father has been paying off Atticus Finch’s legal fees with foodstuffs from the fields – is invited to have dinner with the Finches. There sits Gregory Peck’s upright lawyer, Atticus, Mary Badham’s tomboy Scout, and her brother, Jem (Philip Alford), watching Walter as he pours syrup all over his plate.  But as the roast is being passed around, and the diners all dig in, there’s a discussion about mockingbirds  and blue jays – it’s a sin to kill the former, but all right to kill the latter, those pesky birds.

And as millions of readers and moviegoers know, the mockingjay of The Hunger Games and its subsequent two books, Catching Fire, and, yes, Mockingjay, figures prominently -- and metaphorically -- in the dystopian Young-Adult series. But there’s more: as young Walter forks into his meal, he tells the Finches that it’s the first piece of beef he’s had in ages. He and his father have been subsisting on “squirrel and rabbit” -- the same diet that Catnip Evergreen, oops, I mean Katniss Everdeen, supplies to her struggling and famished family in District 12.

So, mockingbirds, blue jays, squirrel, rabbits -- in a story where kids wander off into the woods and bad, violent things happen to them?  Even if Collins wasn’t consciously inspired by To Kill a Mockingbird, I’d wager that she had revisited the film some time before she set out to write The Hunger Games.

Inquirer Movie Columnist and Critic
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About this blog

Steven Rea has been an Inquirer movie critic since 1992. He was born in London, raised in New York City, and has lived in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Iowa City, Iowa. His column, "On Movies," appears Sundays in Arts & Entertainment, his reviews appear in the Weekend section on Fridays. He is a member of the National Society of Film Critics.

Read his most recent columns and reviews, here. He is the author of the book “Hollywood Rides a Bike,” and also curates the movie stars and bicycling photo blog, Rides A Bike.

Steven Rea Inquirer Movie Columnist and Critic
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