My Atticus Finch – #foreignplanetfilm

In #foreignplanetfilm, FILM, THEATRE & TV, HOME by Hannah Oliver

#foreignplanetfilm is a feature in which we get people to tell us which film they’d choose if they had to and leave earth today and go to a brand new planet empty of all our cinemaWe ask them to tell us when they first saw this film, who they were then, who they are now and why the film continues to hold such great importance within their lives.

To Kill A Mockingbird – Robert Mulligan

Gregory Peck, Mary BadhamI had my first experience of death as an emotional adolescent, fourteen years old, the age at which I began to question the ‘purpose of our being’ and other such profundities. I watched To Kill A Mockingbird for the first time in that same year, and since then it has become a film I could not live without and would take the values I have learnt from it to any foreign planet.

Harper Lee’s novel and its film adaptation focus on the injustice of the treatment of African Americans in the 1930s ‘Deep South’, as an innocent black man is wrongly accused of raping a white girl.

Having it told through the eyes of Scout, who is six when the story begins, was an ingenious technique by Lee. It helped/helps children then and now understand the implications and consequences of racism for American society both then and now. This, maybe, is even more poignant given the decision by authorities earlier this week not to indict the police officer who shot and killed unarmed teenager Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. 80 years since To Kill A Mockingbird was set, its content remains relevant.

At my first time of watching the film, however, it was not just this beautiful stand against racism that captivated me but the striking relationship between protagonist Jean Louis ‘Scout’ Finch (Mary Badham) and her beloved father Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) .

Eight weeks before my Great-Grandmother’s death, she had a fall in her home and was taken to hospital. As a family, we tried diligently to get her out and into hospice care, but sadly it never happened.

I remember thinking of her every day during those eight weeks, stuck in a hospital bed; a lady, who’d led a fulfilling,vibrant life, whose mind was sharper than many twenty-year-olds’ – but as a body, extremely frail. I remember thinking how unfair it was that such a wonderful woman was left there, victim to infection after infection, away from the home she’d lived in for over sixty years. And then I remember my dad, my Atticus Finch.

10822181_10204130501436266_876877529_nLiving in Gloucestershire, it was difficult for us to be near Great-Grandma in Kent, but Dad, without fail, every day after work (he worked in London at this time), travelled an hour each day to go and see her, to talk to her, to keep her company, and he was there the moment she took her final breath. Just like Atticus, my dad never gave up on the weak. He did what he could and, just like Scout, I admire him greatly for it.

There’s scene in the film where a mad, dangerous dog is struggling through the streets of Maycomb County, coming closer to the inhabitants, and Atticus, with nothing else left to do, pulls out his gun and shoots and hits it first time. In this moment of the film Scout comes to realise that this ‘boring, old man of profession’ is fiercely skilled with a gun – and this completely changes her perception of him.

However, Atticus uses this occurrence as a lesson to Scout, summing it up in arguably the most famous line of the feature: ‘Scout, courage is not a man standing with a gun in his hand, it’s knowing you’re licked before you begin, but seeing it through anyway, no matter what’. In other words, Atticus is encouraging Scout not to admire him for his shooting abilities, but, among other things, for his loyalty and his bravery in defending Tom Robinson, a black man, until the very end.

Just as we see Scout leave behind her childlike perceptions of courage and heroism in the film, so I felt mine too matured as a fourteen-year-old girl. My Atticus Finch taught me to never give up on the people you love, to be with them until the very end, and he taught me that losing a loved one, as painful as it can be, is natural and should be viewed as a celebration of a wonderful life. If those aren’t the life lessons of humility, bravery and selflessness to take with you to another world then I don’t know what is.

So I want to say thank you to Harper Lee for creating (and director, Robert Mulligan, for bringing to life) – a story that touched my heart so dearly and thank you too to Atticus Finch, for showing me that heroes don’t need a cape or a magical power, they just need true courage. And thanks Dad, for being my Atticus.

Ellie Bates

Ellie currently studies History and Spanish at Exeter University. Her free time is spent either salsa-ing (salsa dancing not making salsa) or practicing her Stevie Nicks impression in front of the mirror. She is still searching for her Spanish prince so, if you see him, get in touch.

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