It is often a challenge for movie producers to create a movie exactly the same as a book; therefore, they try their best to make the story have the same meaning, to let the audience explore the same questions as a book, and to give the same experience of empathy. The movie adaptation of the book “To Kill a Mockingbird,” by Harper Lee, directed by Robert Mulligan, is similar to the book by the following features: firstly, the narrator, Jean Louise (Scout), is an older woman recalling a story from her childhood; secondly, by Boo Radley, Scout’s mysterious neighbor, and thirdly, by Tom Robinson, the innocent black man that Scout’s father is defending. These three significant similarities are crucial in making the movie an excellent redesign of the book.
First-person narration tells us the story through the eyes of a certain person. The audience feels the emotions and knows the conflicts of the story through the narrator’s views and is able to gain a better understanding of the narrator’s reasoning. In “To Kill a Mockingbird,” we see the world from Scout’s point of view as an adult woman telling her story when she was a child. This is important to the audience, because it creates a relationship between the viewers and the main character, and it forces them to feel what she is feeling, rather than having their own belief on the matter. This flashback storytelling technique is evident in the book when Scout says, “When enough years had gone by to enable us to look back on them, we sometimes discussed the events leading to his accident” (Page 3, Lee) and when she recalls, “Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it.” (Page 6, Lee) Flashback is simultaneously displayed in the movie when adult Scout remembers, “That summer I was six years old,” and when she says, “I was to think of these days many times.” These quotes present the tale from Scout’s viewpoint, and this allow the audience to be more sympathetic to her feelings, and more linked with her logic and affection; hence, the narrator is pivotal to the story.
Similarly, stories usually illustrate character development to show how—as time passes and events of the story change—the person also changes. In “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Scout’s maturity is revealed through Boo Radley, her mysterious neighbor. In the beginning of the story, Scout’s innocence and childish behavior is displayed by her way of interpreting Mr. Radley’s character. She is afraid of him, since she hears rumors about him being a monster, eating squirrels, and stabbing his father in the leg. This is shown when she is speaking to Jem, and he tells her, “Boo was about six-and-a-half feet tall, judging from his tracks; he dined on raw squirrels and any cats he could catch; that’s why his hands were bloodstained—if you ate an animal raw, you could never wash the blood off.” (Page 16, Lee) Other example of how Scout’s character develops is given in the following scene: when Scout goes to school, she has to cross Mr. Radley’s house, and she says, “I ran by the Radley Place as fast as I could, not stopping until I reached the safety of our front porch.” (Page 44, Lee) This is communicated in the movie when Scout, inside a tire, is pushed by Jem, her older brother, to the Radley’s porch, and she runs away scared. However, by the end of the story, Scout’s character grows, and she becomes more understanding of Boo’s lifestyle, and is able to see the world from his eyes. She recalls the events of the last two years from Boo’s window, and this is also presented in the movie when she tells her father, “Yes, sir, I understand… Mr. Tate was right… it’d be sort of like shootin’ a mockingbird, wouldn’t it?” This evolution of her personality and wisdom is significant to the story because it tells the audience what Scout learned from the events of the last two years, and it reinforces the idea that Scout’s father, Atticus, says to Scout: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… until you climb in his skin and walk around in it,” which is important to the idea the story is trying to convey .
Sometimes movies change events in a story to create a happy ending. The director, Robert Mulligan, had a chance to do that when creating the movie by letting Tom Robinson, the innocent black man accused of raping Mayella Ewell, a nineteen-year-old white woman, live rather than subject him to lose the case in court, and get shot trying to escape prison. However, the director did not do that. The way Tom Robinson is killed is the same in the book and in the movie: he is shot trying to run away from the jail. This is a major symbol in the story and the symbol is very powerful to understand the main idea of the book. In the novel, Mr. Underwood, a journal editor, says that “it is a sin to kill cripples,” (Page 323, Lee) and this is similar to what Atticus tells Jem: “it is a sin to kill mockingbirds.” The symbol is vital as it makes Tom Robinson an emblematic mockingbird. It also encourages the audience to feel the devastation of the ruling against an innocent person: ‘I peeked at Jem: his hands were white from gripping the balcony rail, and his shoulders jerked as if each ‘guilty’ was a separate stab between them.’ (Page 282, Lee) This allows the audience to be more in sympathy with the situation. In addition, Mr. Underwood also says that “Tom Robinson was a dead man the moment that Mayella Ewell said that he raped her,” (Page 323, Lee) which is also displayed in the movie when “Mr. Cunningham, a farmer in Maycomb, goes with a group of people to attempt to kill Tom Robinson a day before the trial,” and are rendered unsuccessful because of Atticus’ and Scout’s intervention. Nevertheless, this event proves Mr. Underwood’s comment when he said that it does not matter what Atticus could have said to defend Tom Robinson, because due to the racism engraved in the people of Maycomb, Tom was going to die either way. The death of Tom Robinson, therefore, reinforces the reality of that time period, and is momentous to the entire meaning of the book.
To conclude, a movie can never succeed in being a great book. A book is personal to a reader in a way that a movie cannot be; though, a movie adaptation can make the audience understand the idea of the book by making sure to include main points of the story, so the audience can discover the same essence and intentions of the book while, simultaneously, providing a sensational experience that a book cannot offer by engaging the senses of sight and sound. In “To Kill a Mockingbird,” director Robert Mulligan, successfully incorporates three major plots that are fundamental to the storyline: namely, the first-person narration of the main character, the display of Scout’s maturity through Boo Radley, and the significance of Tom Robinson’s death. As a result of maintaining these three significant plots from the novel, Robert Mulligan was able to make a great movie.