Review: ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ arrives at the Hollywood Pantages with troubling timeliness
“To Kill a Mockingbird” is a remarkable movie: moving, full of human beings in a time of social upheaval and personal triumph; set amid a backdrop of rich Southern culture and laid-back Southern country, to boot. It’s an adaptation of Harper Lee’s novel, a powerful story about the aftermath of injustice and the power of forgiveness. But despite that power, the film often feels disjointed with its time, the story losing its way on its way from the South to the North, the South to Harper Lee’s own place in the world, and Lee’s writing.
All this makes this movie an extraordinary feat of adaptation, one of the few that can look back on a novel as a living and breathing thing while also being entirely new. It’s a difficult task, because there’s a problem with each of the story’s three central themes: forgiveness, justice, and the nature of the soul. On the one hand, forgiveness is a deeply personal theme in literature and cinema, an idea that can help us move on from pain or suffering we’ve inflicted on ourselves. On the other hand, the idea of justice was important at the time, not only because it was the idea of a society that would act to correct injustices that were done to others, but also because of a debate about whether justice was a quality that one had in one’s own life, or was some sort of objective principle that everyone, not just those who were members of the privileged class or had the power to correct injustice, were supposed to embody. Finally, and most important, the theme of the soul was of interest to a new generation of writers and filmmakers. “To Kill a Mockingbird,” for a time at least, was the first novel by a woman to be adapted as a major motion picture, the first time since the arrival of Frank Capra, with whom many see as the godfather of American movie storytelling, that a novel by a woman had been chosen as the basis for a motion picture.
To Kill a Mockingbird debuted at the San Francisco Film Festival in 1960 and premiered at Radio City Music Hall two years later. The movie became a huge success, a runaway hit that would not only make $1.2 million in domestic rentals, but would eventually break the