It takes a special story to outlive its first telling, to become timeless. Mockingbird has become just such a story. I read the book by Harper Lee so long ago, I had forgotten that it was so emotionally wrenching. I sobbed through this film, shocked a number of times. I couldn’t believe the depth and youthful innocence that a young Robert Duvall gave his almost voiceless role of Boo Radley. Brilliant. And, I fell in love with Gregory Peck, who called Atticus his greatest role of all.The opening sequence seems to show quintessential childhood – collections in a box, removed and replaced. Scenes from Amelie (2001) and The Fall (2006) echo as token tribute to this film’s classic opening. A child narrator can speak unfettered by adult inclinations toward between-the-lines political double-talk or gaged intentions. Scout tells it like it is. Innocence is allowed a voice that reminds the world to see people as only a child can and to care for all others unconditionally.
Fans for decades have named children after the beloved narrator Scout, her adventurous and caring brother Jem, and even the glowing knight father Atticus.Despite kid show channels’ certain and obvious attempts at making grown-ups, especially parents, look ridiculous, this story gives the child’s perspective but makes the father the hero. This badge he wears with honesty, care, some sense of failure, and deep love.
Atticus is pensive. He cares for the common good. He is flawed and fragile to his kids at first, being older and refusing to shoot a gun. But when the mad dog saunters into town he proves “ol One-Shot” has still got it.In a parallel portrayal, the real mad dogs of the town come to commit acts of citizen justice before the courts have a chance to free a black man accused of raping a white woman. Atticus stands alone in moral courage against the growling crowd.Even as his Oscar fame faded to a distant echo, Peck remained a father figure to the little actress who played Scout. They always called each other by their character names, and kept in touch. Rare indeed.Even more rare were the events shaping American history at that time. Martin Luther King Jr. wore the heavy burden of speaking to the world on the same matters of civil importance as found in Lee’s book. King spoke of Atticus. King’s message was the same as that of Lee’s novel: living breathing human beings should all be given the same right to live and breathe. Timeless truth.