#84: To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

When and how did I watch this?

November 4th, 2016 on Amazon Instant Video.

Had I seen this film already?

Nope, but just like every high school student in America, I “read the book.”

What did I know about the movie before watching it?

I vaguely remembered the premise of the story — a court trial of some sort involving a black man.  I was a depressed sophomore in high school when I read the book, and I found the book boring and hardly remembered the details.

What do I know about it now?

As many like to say about these sorts of films, “the book is better.” And it probably is, but the movie is no slouch. The real highlight of this film is Gregory Peck.  The man turns in the performance of a lifetime. By the end, I was so enamored by his delivery, sincerity, his pace and temperament as Atticus Finch, that I could’ve voted for the man to be President.  Of course, we all know he is merely an actor, yet what makes these films on the list great are their ability to captivate the viewer through the medium of humans.  The story and themes, though rehashed from a book and further explored — possibly more effectively — in future films, are compelling, illustrating the deep divide of the American South and the challenges a man faced as one who genuinely perceived every man as a human, and not an inconvenience or a means to an end solely because of race. The pacing of the film itself is slow, yet told no differently than any story you were told as a child. Ironically, the story is told retrospectively through the eyes of a child — Scout herself — and we’re forced to believe everything she says.  The only drawback here that makes the film less valid is Scout’s credibility. While some events of our own childhood might seem full of color and detail, we can forget essential aspects of memories and “fill in the blanks” when we recount the story. Scout seems trustworthy as an adult, but how are we to know all of the events she recalls were true? Furthermore, we never really get to know Boo Radley like the book (from what I recall) seemed to spend more time doing. Nonetheless, the film works and is quite memorable to me.

What are some themes in the film?

Prejudice, loss of innocence, justice, money/social class

Did this affect me personally?

Atticus’/Peck’s closing remarks in the Tom Robinson trial is perhaps the most compelling monologue in any film so far.

Why is this ranked #84?

The novel is an American classic. It deals with racism in the South and retells memorable characters (Boo, Atticus, and Bob in particular) from the book.

Did my wife watch/like it?

She liked it. She seemed to have a better recollection of the novel.

Would I watch it again?

Sure, but just for clarity.

Would I recommend it to a friend?

The book might be better, but it’s worth a look.

Does it deserve to be on this list as one of the greatest films of all time?

Yes, but it’s hard to justify its position on the list. While we walk away from To Kill a Mockingbird with the sentiments the film attempts to portray, it takes some shortcuts (probably for brevity) and some liberties to retell the story for the screen.  It’s very difficult to separate it from the book, and it might even be necessary to have read it to get some context. The beacon, however, is certainly Peck’s performance. In a dark community, seemingly peaceful but heavily divided underneath, we feel indebted to Finch in the end for shaking things up and reminding us of those age-old truths: that we should love one another unconditionally and that God shows no favoritism.

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