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A Selection from My Collection: To Kill a Mockingbird

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By Chris Kavan - 07/02/11 at 08:40 AM CT

I bet the first thing that comes to mind when a lot of people see this title is “Oh, that’s that one book I read in school and the movie the teacher made us watch afterward.” But if that’s all you remember about this film, it’s a real shame.

**If You Are One of the People Who Haven’t Seen This Film: Spoilers Below**

To Kill a Mockingbird is the first true classic film to come up on this ongoing series of mine. Sure, Return of the King won a boatload of Oscars compared to it, but I would categorize this as a quintessential American classic. I also consider it one of the better adaptations from book to film.

The film manages to pack a lot in: class and race struggles, coming-of-age drama, the nature of justice, compassion – duty and family. In fact, there are so many facets, you could watch this movie multiple times and find a new to look at things each time. It’s no wonder teachers like this film so much – you could probably dissect this film and literally make a class out of simply discussing the many points.

Taking place in a Maycomb, Alabama – a small town and concerns the family of Atticus Finch and his two children, Jem and Scout. Gregory Peck rightfully won the Academy Award for best actor for his portrayal of Atticus – a just, rational and dare I say noble man. The courtroom soliloquy he delivers is one of the most powerful scenes put on film.

The film also gets excellent performances from Mary Badham as Scout and Phillip Alford as Jem. Their performances aren’t polished but it works because they come across as authentic children. The early part of the film concerns their exploits around town, mostly concerning the local bogeyman “Boo” Radley – a young man locked in his home, apparently after he stabbed his father with a pair of scissors nonchalantly.

This childhood fascination permeates the early story – the visiting neighbor Dill Harris is usually the instigator – a bit of a loudmouth braggart, but never afraid to back down himself. When Jem starts finding mementos left the knot of an old tree, it shines a new light on this mysterious man. It’s not until the film’s final act that we finally discover what this man actually looks like but it’s a crucial part of the film.

While the kids being kids has its moments, the most impact comes from Atticus. He’s not only a single father, but a lawyer. When he’s assigned a case to defend a young black man accused of raping a white women, he accepts, knowing fully that he will find little support and outright hostility from a prejudiced community. Peck’s performance is one for the ages – whether he is doling out fatherly advice or delivering heartbreaking news, his resolve and care come through each scene. While I said the courtroom closing argument he gives is amazing, my favorite scene has to be when he is spat upon by Bob Ewell – you can see his rage, see him contain it and slowly reach in his pocket for a handkerchief to wipe it off and remain the better man. It is the culmination of the film for me – even more so than the aforementioned courtroom drama.

There is a reason this film can be described as timeless: every lesson presented, every value expounded – these are still matters that pertain to the world today, even though it seems light years away from such a simple time. I think this is another reason it’s so popular in schools you can actually learn something should you take the time to really pay attention.

So, if you only remember this film from school when you probably were just happy you got to sit and watch a movie for a couple days instead of reading or writing reports, maybe it’s time to revisit this classic. I guarantee you will see it in a different light and it will be a much better experience. I merely scratched the surface here, as I said, this is a film with so many facets, you could design a thesis around it should it suit you.

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