Turbulent times leave a mark on the everyday things of life. And some films that talk about such times manages to transport us into the realm of better but severe and emotion filled times. ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ is a film made in the 1960’s with a beautifully haunting atmosphere, in the middle of the Civil Rights movement. It is made without a big budget to boast and no special effects.
The film is made in a small town, of Macomb, in the south of the United States. It is the time of the deepest depression. The film talks about the life of Atticus Finch, (Gregory Peck) a widower and lawyer, the father of two children, Scout (Mary Badham) and Jem (Phillip Alford). In that “tired and sleepy town”, things suddenly go haywire, with the alleged rape of a white woman Maybella Ewell (Collin Wilcox) by a black man Tom Robinson (Brock Peters). Angry mobs search for the Negro to lynch him. There is no one to defend the suspect or represent him in court and Finch takes the task. Most of the townsmen are against this and they try to dissuade Finch. The film is the story of the trial, interlaced with other stories and small trivial incidents that fascinate us.
The main theme of this film is about the class system that existed in this country during those times. Atticus Finch is an ideal father to his two children and tries to inculcate his ethics into their lives. He decides to argue the case of Tom Robinson, a Negro, even though he is white. He is dissuaded from even accepting the case. We find that Tom being convicted only because he is a Negro and the jury are all white. All evidences point to the innocence of Tom but still he is convicted. Another differentiation of class shown in the film is the lawyer’s examination of Tom Robinson in the court.
The injustice in the film is connected with class distinction depicted in the film. The father teaches his children that often, doing right is not rewarded. But still one must do what is right, though one may face injustice. The injustice being done to the colored man accused of rape, is the most significant one in the film. He is harassed because he was ready to help Collin Ewell, when no one else would. Whereas everyone is sure of the innocence of Tom, no one listens to his words. The shattered arm, with which he couldn’t have done the crime that he is accused of is given the blind eye by everyone. But Bob Ewell, a no good white man and poacher, whom everybody knows to be a drunkard, is listened and believed. Another baseless accusation is about Boo Radley, by the children. It is cleared later on in the film, when he saves the lives of the children from being killed. The beating suffered by Maybella at the hands of her brutal father, is ignored by the audience, by the wickedness inherent in the character.
Another major theme of the film is compassion. As it involves risk of his own life, the compassion shown by Atticus Finch for Tom is the most important one in the film. When Tom, is about to be hanged by the angry mob, it is Finch who sit guard in from of the jail to protect him. He accepts the case of Tom, even when most of his townsfolk turn against him. Thus he puts himself and his children at risk to save a colored man. He would rather teach his children love and compassion than hate. Another sideline for this theme is the story of Boo Radley. Boo, shows much compassion to the children. He leaves gifts for them in the knot hole of a tree, but at first the children are unaware of this. But slowly, children come to realize that it is Boo who is leaving the gifts in the hole. Later he saves the children, while they are attacked and almost killed. Tom Robinson also shows compassion to the alleged rape victim, of the film. He agrees to break up the chifforobe for her, which ultimately lands him in trouble. Thus the film is full of incidents involving compassion (Plot Summary for To Kill a Mockingbird).
Everyone who watches this beautiful film is amazed at it. It is said that the director, Horton Foote, worried about being able to do justice to the book of the same name, on which the film is based. He can rest assured that he has completely copied a time period that rests under a canvass of dust and wind, slowly fading into oblivion. The film stays with us, long after we leave the theatre (Sibley).
Plot Summary for To Kill a Mockingbird. 2010. May 3 2010.
Sibley, Mary. To Kill A Mockingbird. 2003. May 3, 2010