director Robert Mulligan
There was kind of a funny reason behind us watching this for movie night. My daughter, Clara, who is 10 years old, has been getting a few random comments that she “looks like Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird.” Scout, who was played by Mary Badham, who despite playing a girl the age of 6-8, was actually closer to 10 herself at the time. And those comments reflect some truth, I can see it in her face shape, nose, and some expressions. But I hadn’t seen the movie in ages and ages.
The movie is a perennial favorite of Americans with good reason. While I’ve never read the book upon which it was based, it’s also a book that has long been a popular favorite, highlighting as they both do, the dramas behind childhood understandings of societal fears, hate, and racism that still bore deep significance in the 1960’s into which is was published and filmed, despite recounting writer Harper Lee’s childhood over two decades before in small town Alabama.
More than anything of its core narrative and turning point about an unjust case against in which a poor white woman accused a poor black man of rape and the public sentiments seeped in racist belief, the story offers one of the great American “heroes” of film or fiction in the character of Atticus Finch, embodied so perfectly in the film by Gregory Peck. He represents sound and deep morals and ideals, an integrity and humanity that many have aspired to and hung belief and trust in.
It’s probably an interesting study in the type of ethos and ideals that people like to believe in, real world or not, an image of an American archetype “hero” as important and true as it is rare and unreal. Lee based the character on her own father and whatever level of belief in ideals or heroes that one has, it’s easy to be attracted to the character and what he stands for.
A significant part of the film deals with the courtroom and the trial, but the whole is a bit of a coming of age story, in understanding the ugliness of some parts of the world and a goodness hiding beneath the feared character of Boo Radley. And significantly, good doesn’t inherently win out.
It’s a very good film, driven by the excellent cast and in particular Peck’s performance. There is a reason that when one thinks of Gregory Peck that one thinks of Atticus Finch. A real, good reason.