Movie rating: ⅗ stars
While aiming to bring an exemplary novel to the theaters, the film manages to get rid of some of the source’s most iconic characters.
By: Juliana Giraldo
Atticus, Scout, and Jem Finch from the 1962 film, To Kill A Mockingbird.
Watching the movie, To Kill A Mockingbird, after reading the source material by Harper Lee can go either two ways. First, as a thought-provoking, daring, and heartfelt semi-autobiographical bildungsroman directed by Robert Mulligan. In that way, the movie To Kill A Mockingbird surpasses it’s expectations, managing to bring the novel’s characters to life, and become an award-winning film. As a little girl I would have probably identified with Scout, a girl protagonist who’d rather play outside with boys, and wear overalls instead of uncomfortable dresses due to her independent and daring attitude. Mary Badham, the actress who performed Scout in the Universal International adaptation, manages to bring Scout to life, and lead us through a town full of religious hypocrisy, gender norms, and racial and social prejudice with a very innocent perspective. Nevertheless, another way to look at this adaptation is as the inferior counterpart of the book, since it does not reach many of the readers expectations. Believing that even though the film manages to bring the story and characters to life, the movie puts at risk the viewers total understanding of the themes presented, because it left out significant segments found within the book, or sometimes even altered them beyond recognition.
The content of To Kill A Mockingbird manages to match some of the novel’s material, yet many of its bold elements were cut off.
The core of the film mostly corresponds with the book. Scout, ranging from six to nine years of age during the novel and film, is one of the various “mockingbirds” found throughout the story. She lives in Maycomb County, a microcosm of the deep south of the United States, with her righteous father Atticus (Gregory Peck), a great lawyer, and her older brother Jem (Phillip Alford), who is four years her senior. She is constantly reminded by her family to conform to gender norms, and feels underestimated due to her age. As Scout is growing up, she is faced with the challenge to not allow other people’s prejudices contribute to how she perceives individuals, and must also manage to live under constant judgment as her father defends a black man accused of rape. Throughout her journey, Scout learns about the value of empathy, justice, and equality, and so do all of the readers and viewers.
The contour of the story is somewhat consistent, but some very important and insightful characters are left out from the Universal International adaptation. Lost are the characters of Aunt Alexandra and Mr.Raymond, which even though were very significant in the novel, they were not included in the movie. In addition, not much emphasis is provided to a “wagonload of unusually stern-faced citizens”, characters, which later lead to the understanding that many people who state to follow religion very deeply, actually use religion to justify their immoral actions.
All of us who have read the book can agree that To Kill A Mockingbird is recognized worldwide due to it’s demonstration of the firm boundaries and discrimination between social classes, and gender expectations, some which were majorly omitted in the movie due to the absence of Aunt Alexandra. Aunt Alexandra, Atticus’s younger sister, was a very essential character in the novel, as her strict, “proper”, and closed minded personality served as a foil character for Scout. Her strong disapproval towards her niece’s relationships with black people and even with white people, in lower social rankings, led Scout to realize that social categorization and race should not matter since people should be valued by who they are in the inside. In addition, Aunt Alexandra served to shed light on the theme of gender norms and expectations. Her strong beliefs represented almost every woman and girl in the 1930’s United States. Therefore, Scout is a stark contrast to her aunt, and criticized due her “improper” language, tomboyish ways, and improper behaviour and dressing. This allows the reader to comprehend Southern customs. Accordingly, taking Aunt Alexandra out of the picture in the movie, takes away meaning from the themes and background context, not allowing the viewers to completely understand the story since it does not provide them with enough background information to understand how the county works.
Another reason why To Kill A Mockingbird is acclaimed worldwide, is due to the novel’s realistic and relatable characters. Mr. Raymond, a wealthy white man who’d rather spend time with “black folks” and is married to a black women, is also left out of the film. Mr.Raymond, a man who constantly pretends to be drunk due to society’s disapproval of interracial relationships, takes a lead position, just like Atticus, in the theme of equality. His valuable thoughts on injustice, and racism are beautiful and truthful. His wisdom on the innocence of children, and how aging allows them to see as normal what they once considered horrible and heartbreaking; is a life lesson for both the readers and young characters. However, as Mr.Raymond was never seen in the film viewers will never obtain his wisdom, or neither better understand the historical context of the story.
To Kill A Mockingbird is also recognized for Harper Lee’s message on religion. The purpose of religion is to provide people with values and ethics, however, in the book many “religious” people prefer not to “walk the talk”. A “wagonload of unusually stern-faced citizens”, who Ms.Maudie refers to as foot-washing baptists, led all readers to understand the existence of religious hypocrisy. These characters who were considered to be deeply religious, and blind followers of Christianity came into Maycomb County to watch this mockery of justice. Nevertheless, they were not heading towards the trial to support the obviously innocent black man accused of rape, instead, due to their clear belief in white supremacy, they awaited for the defendant to be declared guilty; something clearly contradicting to Christian principles. Consequently, this event allowed the readers to comprehend and realize how even though religion is considered enriching, it is also very hypocritical, and many times not applied by people who call themselves deeply religious. Therefore, only allowing the viewers to briefly see this characters, causing them to consider them part of the background, does not allow this meaningful message to be communicated.
To Kill A Mockingbird does not fall short when criticizing racism, but the significance of its other critiques seemed to be less considered.
There are many reasons why at the end of the movie, even though I was relatively satisfied due to being able to see my favorite novel come to life, I was left feeling incomplete. It is obvious that a novel will always have to be adapted or even altered in order to be turned into a film. However, too many significant elements of the novel, and even characters which had a great participation in the book were left out. Now, I wonder whether the film was actually made shorter due to time constraints, or was it only to focus on delivering one specific message to the public instead of many. I wonder whether the movie purposely left out many of it’s very important elements and characteristics to cause less controversy, prevent it from being banned, and to make people less uncomfortable, even though it was initially meant to do so.