Beasts of the wild south
The indestructible magic of “To Kill a Mockingbird” is that it seems as if the novel has always been, it is so eternal. At the same time, the publication was a breakthrough in literature: the book became a new milestone in the fight against racism (primarily in the minds) and was crowned with the Pulitzer Prize. The same solidity overtook the picture, which was released two years later, as well as the awards: three Oscar statuettes out of eight nominations. It is unlikely that the 20th century could have taken place without Atticus, Jean Louise, the scarecrow Radley and Tom Robinson. As in other (film) parenting novels, nostalgic optics serve as the key to rethinking childhood experiences. The film, which was forced to lose the nuances of nine-year-old Louisa Jane Finch’s inner experiences, has acquired the voice of the narrator (Kim Stanley) in order not to lose the intonation of the irrevocably gone summer vacation. But, despite the extension of a look into the past inherited from prose, the morals of the southerners and the key trial are shown not only through the eyes of a girl, but as if by everyone around in turn.
Sweet Home Alabama, the 30s in the suffocating embrace of the Great Depression, summer is a small life, court is a big death sentence. Big Eye Finch (Mary Badham) grows up under the tutelage of older brother Jim (Phillip Alford) and father Atticus (Gregory Peck). The widower practices law: the Finches can afford to pay au pair Calpurnia (Estelle Evans) for their earnings and not skimp on a roast for dinner, unlike their farmer neighbors, who make do with nothing but turnips. Like Harper Lee, director Robert Mulligan does not try to show the social abyss with posters and slogans, but denotes a general feeling of quiet and humble trouble. Poverty, boredom and lack of education are the three honorable citizens of the fictional Maycomb.
Careless mischief turns into a twisted path of adulthood when Atticus undertakes to protect Tom Robinson (Brock Peters) – a black man accused of raping the daughter of a farmer, Mayella (Colin Wilcox Paxton). The verdict is already a foregone conclusion both in the minds and in the neighborhood gossip, but Mr. Finch comes to grips with stereotypes in the courtroom and on the streets of the town. Right and wrong at the same time.
The power of the utterance is in the uncomplicated children’s perception: while Atticus pats his daughter on the head and promises that life will become clearer with age, Eyeball already understands the banality of injustice and the power of prejudice. The scene in which Atticus guards Robinson in order to protect the angry mob from lynching is the main success of the picture. The children run towards Finch in a fearless squadron: Louise asks the simplest questions and is not afraid to make eye contact, while the adults hide under the brim of their hats. Robert Mulligan puts the camera at the level of a child on the porch: no matter what happens, Eyes and Jean Louise look up at Atticus, and exactly the opposite is true for those who are thirsty for a primitive judgment.
The young debutante Mary Badam tried to stretch the scene as much as she could: the last shift of the filming period was underway, and in order not to let go of the Mockingbird, Mary confused the lines and moved at random. The director and mother coped with the whims, but the feeling of an attempt to stop time hung invisibly in the scene: the still life of childhood inevitably passes into adulthood.
Even lawyers were once kids
The very next day, the world changed beyond recognition: no shiny gifts in the hollow and no attempts to stare at the neighbor Scarecrow Radley (Robert Duvall). The trial of Tom Robinson began, and the picture changed intonation and gait on the screen. The conditions for dividing the timekeeping almost equally were appointed by Gregory Peck: the book led to the fact that Atticus is the main character in a much more veiled way. In addition, the figure of an exemplary father and man was idealized by the perception of his daughter. Finch instantly became a role model not only for his children: the actor merged with a literary hero, and together they staked out the place of the most positive character of all time. You can argue with status and try to rebuke for the “white savior” tropes, but it will hardly work: Atticus is the father of citizenship, who brought up more than one generation of Americans.
Harper Lee painted Atticus with the colors of memories of her own dad, Amas, also a lawyer who also took on a deliberately lost case against a black man. Gregory Peck balanced the austerity with detached wisdom and amazing calmness: a portrait of a small man on the verge of a great deed. Today, Atticus looks like a distant beacon, whose scattered light now and then falls on culture. It’s as if the cinema hides the soothing feeling that somewhere on the porch in the cool of a summer evening, Atticus peers into the distance and thinks about something of his own, something of the most important thing that can neither be described in a novel nor expressed in cinematic language.
Bitter sense of justice
To Kill a Mockingbird deserves a triumphant finale in the best tradition of Steven Spielberg’s patriotic films, or at least Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7. The courtroom, the announcement of the verdict, uplifting music and tears of inspiration – a happy ending of justice, everyday evil is defeated, the truth has triumphed. None of these major notes will sound either for Atticus or for the audience: Tom Robinson, despite all the testimony, is convicted by the jury. Prejudices do not perish in one day even under the pressure of common sense: prejudices have not yet been forgotten. No matter how banal aggression may be, there is always something more hidden behind it: poverty, financial and spiritual poverty, anger accumulated over the years. It is more important not to give up even after a disarming defeat – while stereotypes lose their strength, beliefs gain tangibility and influence.
Both books and films argued with the title for a long time and wanted to change the metaphor to a more mundane version. It didn’t work out, and it’s for the best: the simplest lesson in any elementary school is “do not hurt the weak” – a commandment that is too often neglected. Big-eyed Finch tried to pounce on any lie with her fists and prove a point with bruises on her opponent’s cheeks, but matured when she realized that the strongest opposition was protection. And to understand another, you need to walk around in his shoes, even if they are not the right size.