It’s always dicey whenever a movie is made from a popular book.
Because if there’s anything people don’t like, it’s when a film adaptation screws up your favorite book. Even worse? When a film adaptation screws up your favorite book from your childhood.
The Giver is based on Lois Lowry’s Newberry Medal winning book of the same name, which was often read in elementary school classrooms way back in the day. For many, it was their first introduction to a dystopian novel. Basically, it was my generation’s Divergent. Only this was actually good.
To be honest, I don’t even recall if I read The Giver or not in elementary school or not. I feel like I did, but I just don’t remember. I read a lot of shit back then.
But the general consensus seems to be that the movie did not do the book justice. It hasn’t been looked upon too favorably by critics or audiences, who seem to significantly prefer the book.
As someone who may or may not have read the book 20 years ago, I went into the movie not really knowing to expect. A blank canvas. And I think that’s why I enjoyed it more than others. I had no book to compare it to.
If you’re familiar with a film’s source material, then it’s only natural that you’re going to have preset expectations, and be upset when they’re not met. But the point of a film adaptation is not to replicate a book page-by-page. Its true purpose is to tell the story in different artistic medium, while still carrying the heart, and overall message, of the source material.
The message of The Giver definitely resonated with me.
The story is about a dystopian society that has its members inject themselves everyday with a “medication” to prevent them from feeling emotion. Additionally, all past memories of prior existence are erased. All they know is what they have lived.
It’s basically a Communist society, where everyone serves a purpose. At the coming of age ceremony, each teenager is given a job they will fulfill for the rest of their life.
Climate is also controlled so that there is never inclement weather. Basically, it’s one big utopia, where everyone gets along and there’s no conflict, and people do what they’re told without questions asked.
The story revolves around three best friends, Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), Fiona (Odeya Rush) and Asher (Cameron Monaghan). Jonas is given the job of The Receiver of Memory, who is the only person allowed to have memories of the past. By having this wisdom, he becomes the society’s advisor, using his knowledge of the past to avoid future mistakes. He is mentored by the current Receiver, played perfectly by Jeff Bridges, whose voice just demands our attention with every syllable.
The society is under the supervision of the Chief Elder, the stone-faced, reliable Meryl Streep.
Cinematically, to indicate the lack of emotion, a lot of the film is in black and white. But the story is told from Jonas’ perspective, and as his lessons progress, and he learns of the all emotion and feelings missing in their world, he begins to see things in color. It’s a technique basically copied from Pleasantville.
Anyway, what Jonas comes to learn is what I think is the message the movie is trying convey – what makes human beings unique, and what makes life so special, is our ability to feel. To emote. It’s our greatest triumph, and tragedy. But again, it’s what makes life worth it.
Naturally, once Jonas begins to feel these things, he tries to singlehandedly change the society he lives in, facing harsh pushback from the Chief Elder, and others.
The movie is far from perfect. Remember, it’s a young adult book, so it’s easy to predict exactly where the story is going. But I think it succeeds in its mission, even if it didn’t live up to its source material, which most people seem to agree on.