I read “The Giver,” by Lois Lowry, in seventh grade for my english class and I remember really enjoying it. It was the first book I can remember reading where the world was so vastly different from my own.
It was hard to fathom a world where the people didn’t know what an elephant was, or dancing, or snow, or just basic emotions. Things that were so ingrained in me.
Now, 16 years later, I finally get to see this world on the big screen.
“The Giver” is the story of Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), an 18-year-old about to be given his job assignment. In this world everything (job, spouse, children) is chosen for you. The elders of the world have developed a way to strip all differences and individuality from the world. There is no color, no weather, no emotions, no lying, no sickness, no conflict, no freedom.
Only one community member has memories of the past in order to help guide the elders when there is a problem, the Receiver. Jonas is chosen to become the new Receiver. He will be given memories from the old receiver (Jeff Bridges), now called the Giver.
As Jonas starts receiving more and more memories he starts seeing colors, feeling emotions, and learning there’s another way of life. Maybe his world isn’t as perfect as it seems? He wants to find a way to bring back the old way of life and give the memories to everyone and with the Giver’s help works to find a way.
The film seemed pretty faithful to the book, what I remember at least, but I still couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed by everything. It felt like I was watching the life of a cult, not a world in the future.
One major difference was in the book Jonas was only 12, not in his late teens. They also added an unnecessary love angle with his friend Fiona (Odeya Rush). I’m not sure if this was added because they made him older so wanted to give him a girlfriend, or because filmmakers felt they needed that to hold the audience’s attention, or maybe they felt it genuinely added to the story, he’s feeling things now so naturally that’s going to translate to love for his best friend.
The film felt sanitized, like what we would have watched in class after reading the book. And I probably would have really liked it then. They made Jonas older but didn’t mature the storyline any. Teenage Jonas acted the same way pre-teen Jonas did in the books, and that didn’t fit.
The other big difference is the ending. There’s added conflict with his other best friend Asher (Cameron Monaghan) thrown in which I didn’t mind so much. But the ending seemed way more drama filled than I remember.
In the books, as a reader, you are always with Jonas; you don’t know what other characters are doing when he’s not there. In the movie we get to see what’s going on that he doesn’t know about. Some of these scenes, like ones between Bridges and Meryl Streep, as Chief Elder, add depth to the world. But others, like Fiona getting arrested seem forced. The ambiguousness of the original ending is lost.
“Hunger Games,” “Divergent,” “Maze Runner,” all these YA novels about teens in a dystopian future are flooding the theaters and “The Giver,” published 15+ years before any of these lacks the grit and depth of world these others have and falls flat in comparison.
“The Giver” world is very dark. They routinely euthanize the young the and old without question or second thought. It’s compulsory. But it feels like rainbows and unicorns compared to 24 kids fighting each other to death for a decent meal.
On the plus side, the visuals are outstanding in “The Giver.” It is a very pretty movie to watch. Starting out in black-and-white, then slowly, as Jonas begins to see colors, so does the audience. Also, the translation from book-to-screen of this not-so-utopian society with the symmetry and sameness of the buildings and sets is very well done compared to the messy haphazard home of The Giver is very well done.
Bridges and Streep are great in their roles and add a sense of gravitas to the world and the film. The entire cast, including Katie Holmes, Alexander Skarsgard, and Taylor Swift are perfectly adequate and do the best they can with the bland script.
At the end of the day I’m glad I saw the film. It’s still an interesting idea to think about. Would you give up your freedom and individuality for peace and safety? What if you didn’t even know they existed in the first place?