Monday, December 01, 2008

Thoughts while watching To Kill a Mockingbird

On Thanksgiving night, after stuffing ourselves with turkey and other goodies, my family and I sat down to watch To Kill a Mockingbird. The novel by Harper Lee (on which the movie is based) is one of my favorites, but for some reason I never saw the movie. Even my 16 year old daughter had seen it in school.

First I'll say this: it's good I knew the story so well, because at times the kids' accents were so thick, I had trouble catching some of what they said. Part of this could have also been the difference in film/sound quality from what we're used to now.

Second: Gregory Peck was perfect in the role of Atticus Finch.

Third, and the reason for this blog post: It occurred to me while watching that if Harper Lee had written her novel today, she probably would have been pressured to change at least a few of the scenes so as not to disappoint the audience. For example, there's the long courtroom scene where Atticus proves that Tom Robinson, because of his lame left arm, couldn't have assaulted Mayella Ewell the way she (and her father and the sheriff) testified. Atticus gives an incredibly eloquent closing argument, but the jury still comes back with a guilty verdict. It's painful to read (and watch). Nowadays, I'm just not sure a writer could get away with this. Readers have certain expectations (in this case, that justice will prevail). Even if the guilty verdict were allowed to stand at the book stage, the film version would surely nip the "problem" in the bud. Hollywood nowadays would never allow such a verdict. Can't have the audience leaving the theatre without a smile on its face.

Then there's the scene near the end, when Atticus goes with Jem to the Robinson house to break the news to the family that Tom Robinson is dead. Bob Ewell shows up, and Atticus comes out of the Robinson house and stands before him. Ewell spits in Atticus' face, and there's a moment when the audience is just waiting for Atticus to haul off and hit him. To say Ewell deserves it is an understatement. Of course the audience wants Atticus to hit him. Even Atticus wants to hit him. In the film, you can just see his mind considering the possibility, you can see the desire. But no matter how much the audience wants it, Harper Lee knew Atticus was a better man than that. His response is hard to watch, just like the guilty verdict, but it's the only response befitting him: he walks away.

I wonder if, in today's version, he still would . . .

1 comment:

Molly Bethune said...

I did not know you had a blog! #1 I am so glad you're OK. #2 The reason that you couldn't understand the kids in To Kill a Mocking Bird is because you can't understand southerners! I love your thoughts on the movie and I agree. Tom and I were watching the Untouchables last night and commenting that when Kevin Costner's character throws the bad guy off the building in anger, it degrades the Elliot Ness character. Maybe that's why I love the classics so much...they weren't so hung up on nice happy endings!