Cautions: violence and intensity, some filial rebellion, mild ethical confusion, and some slang
To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the rare book-to-movie adaptations deep enough to please fans of both formats. Driven by a message and yet successfully drawn as entertainment—poignant, winsome, stimulating and fulfilling—To Kill a Mockingbird’s intense drama of southern racism and small town prejudice is told from the perspective of children too sinful to keep out of the controversy, and too innocent to be safe from a wicked man’s guilty conscience.
1962 | Robert Mulligan | 129 min
Violence and Intensity
There are several intense moments, where sounds, shadows and music are used to indicate the children’s fright at something, whether well-founded or not.
In an intense scene, children—alone, at night—are attacked by a man who apparently means to kill them. Most of the attack is not actually seen, but the sounds and screams are heard as the man injures one child and then goes after another. In another nighttime scene, a drunken villain is seen peering into a car where the children are sitting.
A to-the-death struggle between two men takes place mostly off screen, with only their shadows and their hands being shown.
An alleged rape is described in delicate but potentially emotionally-intense terms, the most explicit being “I turn around, and before I know it he’s on me.” The word “raped” and phrase “taken advantage of” are used. A man, in tears, tells about being aggressively sexually harassed by a woman, again in delicate terms.
A young woman is said to have been beaten, with bruises, a black eye, and finger marks on her neck. She states that a man hit her again and again. It is strongly suggested that the girl’s father had beaten her and said in anger that he was going to kill her.
Someone mentions having had their hand caught in a cotton gin and all the muscles torn loose. Another person’s arm is said to be broken badly, as if someone were trying to wring his arm off. A gossipy woman tells a story about a neighbor having stabbed his father in the leg with a pair of scissors.
A man is said to have been found dead with a knife in his ribs, and another man is said to have been shot dead.
A mad dog is seen, but does not come near anyone.
Some Filial Rebellion
The children, especially Jem, the boy, disobey their father on a regular basis. Like with filial disobedience in real life, whether this is seen positively or negatively, of little importance or of serious importance, depends on the perspective of the viewer. There is a fairly true-to-life proportion of negative consequences and positive or neutral consequences to the disobedience.
On a few occasions, Jem absolutely refuses to obey his father, whether from a desire to stand by him in a dangerous situation, or in an attempt to force him into playing football for the Methodists. In the petty instances, Jem’s defiance accomplishes nothing. In the more serious cases, the disobedience has indirect positive results, although the disobedience itself is not portrayed positively. The children’s access to the courtroom, which allows them to see the moral significance of a legal case their father is involved in, is owing to their deliberate disobedience.
Scout, the girl, makes a contemptuous face at being forced to do something she doesn’t like, and runs off and pouts after being scolded.
The children, after narrowly escaping trouble because of their disobedience, keep the circumstances a secret from their father, Atticus.
Atticus, rebukes his children’s wrong ideas or behavior, but is never seen disciplining them beyond that. Jem says that Atticus had never “whipped” him, and, despite his disobedience, Jem means to keep it that way.
There is occasional brief squabbling between Jem and Scout, but this is not portrayed positively.
For God’s sake
My goodness gracious
Negatively-portrayed characters use the word “n-gger” several times, but Atticus gravely tells Scout not to say it. One character refers to a Negro as a “colored man”.
Mild Ethical Confusion
Atticus’ defense of a (black) alleged rapist centers on the (white) accuser’s apparent attempt to seduce the man. His statements focus on the girl’s feelings of guilt, but explain them in terms of perceived guilt at having “merely broken a rigid and time-honored code of our society”—the divide between white and black people—rather than on the immorality of trying to seduce a married man, or any man for that matter. This may be a reflection on Atticus’ own moral priorities, or may be a deliberate focus on a line of thought that would be more acceptable to the jury, or more direct to his point.
An officer of the law covers up the killing (in defense of others) of a bad man in order to protect good people from misguided public opinion.
Atticus describes a malicious girl as a victim of poverty and ignorance, but adds that he cannot therefore excuse her behavior.
Jem and Scout both go to a public school.
Scout is a tomboy. She resents having to wear a pretty dress to school, and gets in fights with little boys her age. Her father tells her not to fight, on the grounds that she is far too old and too big for such childish things, but doesn’t address the issue of girls fighting boys. At one point, Jem disdainfully tells a frightened Scout that she acts more like a girl all the time.
Characters use the phrase “I swear” a number of times, and once Jem tells Scout to cross her heart. Side characters in court are sworn in on a Bible.
A little boy, not necessarily positively-portrayed, lies about the accomplishments of his father, whom he knows nothing about. Jem’s stories about a neighbor appear to be to some degree made up on the spot, but are shown to be incorrect and harmful.
Jem repeats praise for ancient Egypt from his school teacher, and says that Egypt is the “cradle of civilization.”
The children are told by a side character to thank their stars.
Halloween is briefly mentioned positively.
A bad guy is seen with a cigarette.