Saturday, February 6, 2010

The 9 Most Influential Films of My Life: #6

     If the Good Lord ever chooses to bless me by granting me a male offspring, it is imperative the firstborn child's name be Atticus.

     Atticus Finch is the greatest protagonist in film history.  Without being Christ Himself, without having to suffer a torturous death in the third act, Atticus Finch, our humble Father in "To Kill a Mockingbird", emulates the greatest qualities a man can ever hope to attain.

A cursory list of the attributes of Atticus Finch follows:

     Atticus is brutal in his exertion of strength.  Watch the scene where he shoots the rabid dog.  He doesn't flinch.  His execution of wrath is just and wholly swift.  If this man were to choose to make you an enemy, you would not survive his justice.

"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.'  But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also."*

     Atticus is fiercely intelligent.  There's a reason that despite receiving a unanimous verdict against his defendant, Mr. Finch is greeted with honor and respect by his defendant's peers.  In the courtroom, Atticus mops the floor with the prosecution's ridiculous story.  He pubicly humiliates them.  And in return for having been shamed, the townspeople choose evil.  They're insipid ideologies are no match for Finch's ferocious genius.

"If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also.  Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two."

     Is there a more loving father than Atticus Finch?  In some respect, loving one's own family is a fairly regular practice among cinematic protagonists.  Even anti-heroes like the Corleone family (minus one Judas brother) have a vast and admirable love for those within the family, but love can take many forms.  The love the widower Atticus shows for his children is unique.  Surely somewhere in the far reaches of his mind, Atticus is a desperate man.  The responsibility of raising his children has fallen fully upon his brow.  His wife has passed away.  He alone must be the example his children will emulate.  The most remarkable aspect in his relationship with his children is that he never condescends down to them.  He has every right to be condescending -- they are young, naive, and at times stupid -- he is wise, strong, and right, yet he never overshadows his children with his character.  He talks to them as they are.  He knows his children.

"Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you."

     Atticus exudes a lightness of being.  This is a man who has lost his wife, gets paid for his hard work with vegetables, lives amongst a ravaging environment of racist hatred, and has to deal everyday with two very curious children.  Atticus fills all of his roles with exquisite tenderness.  He comes off as an easy man.  He has not been made jaded by the world 'round.  He still manages to deal with each conflict with the appropriate amount of seriousness.  And he is quick to smile. 

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'  But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?  Do not even the tax collectors do the same?" 

     Most of all, Atticus always acts on grace.  To exert mercy and grace is, in my belief, the hardest call of the Gospel.  It is easy to love those who love you.  Jesus proclaims, it is in the discipline of showing love to our enemies that the Good News of God's character is best exemplified.  When Atticus is spat at by a drunken bastard just moments after telling his defendant's family that their son is dead, who among us didn't want Atticus to inflict vengeance on the sorry sap of a soul?  Who was this pathetic man that he felt such audacious hostility as to spit on the image of such a saint as Atticus Finch?  He is no one!  When he dies, no one will weep.  As for Atticus, his life is of tremendous value.  He has every right to beat the snot out of this imbecile.  Yet Atticus, in his blessed wisdom, forgives the man by showing mercy.

"Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." 

     Jesus Christ is the only perfect man who ever lived.  The call to emulate his life is impossible.  Examples like Atticus Finch are as rare as they are precious.

*All italicized quotes from Matthew 5:38-48, New American Standard