If you’re roughly the same age as I am, and went to high school in the mid-to-late 90’s, you probably read The Giver, by Lois Lowry, in school – and loved it. In fact, you’re anything like me – it was the only book you were forced to read that you actually liked. Yup, before there were Maze Runners, Hunger Games, and Divergent-y young adult dystopian novels, there was The Giver. And it was fantastic.
I won’t regale you with a review of the novel or its plot. Those interested should read it. Unfortunately, in today’s dystopian-flooded market, new readers probably won’t think much of it because it’s a much different book than those listed above. Nevertheless, it will always hold a place in my list of favorite books – as I’m sure it does for most folks my age.
But this review is about the movie and we all know how often adaptions of novels usually don’t get things quite right (i.e.: Ender’s Game). After seeing the first few trailers months ago I was already worried. It kind-of looked like it should but there were these extra things that didn’t belong. I was nervous. Still excited though.
I wasn’t able to see it the opening weekend, but one of my best friends did. We share a passion for the book. When I finally was able to see it this past weekend I took his advice and went in trying to distance myself from the book, knowing it wasn’t going to live up to it, and things were going to be different and to just view the movie as a singular entity based on the premise of the novel. In the end it was a toss up. I liked it. I didn’t like it.
First a little background; Jeff Bridges has been trying to get this movie made for the better part of two decades, and wanted to be a part of it. In fact he wanted his father, Lloyd Bridges, to play the eponymous character. Of course, when Lloyd died in 1998 that idea fell by the wayside. Of course I don’t know what goes on behind the closed doors of Hollywood’s decision makers but I’m going to assume Jeff finally found some traction getting the project going because of the success of the recent batch of books and movies (Hunger Games, Divergent, etc). It seems like fate that Jeff Bridges was now able to play the key character in the book/movie.
So the premise of the book/movie is pretty straight forward: after some unknown world-changing event, this group of people have formed a community where everyone conforms to this idea of “sameness.” There are no emotions or feelings, no lying, no memories of the past, everyone is assigned jobs based on their strengths, and for the most part people don’t know any better. The movie begins in black & white – as it should. Because it’s not until you’re well into the book you discover the book started in black & white too – the members of the community do not see any color. Because color = emotions = not sameness!
Enter: Jonas. (Oh, did I mention they don’t have last names, either?) And of course we all know how the formula goes – you can almost hear the movie trailer voice-over guy; “one man, one world, one decision will change everything…” blah blah blah. Anyway, when all the boys & girls come of age they go to a big fun ceremony where they get assigned their jobs. By the way I should also mention that much like the Ender’s Game, and Percy Jackson adaptations, Jonas has been up-aged from his book equivalent to be a hormonal teenager. Because apparently the movie going public cannot suspend disbelief enough to agree that younger characters are capable of, you know, anything. So Jonas gets the honor of becoming The Receiver of Memory. He’s all like, WTF? His friends got to be nurses, and baby mommas, and drone pilots. Wait, drones in The Giver? Ugh, thanks Obama. The Receiver of Memory does pretty much what it sounds like: receives memories. But it’s more than just memories. It’s emotions. Fears. Colors. Ideas. The past. Bridges’ character, whom does not actually have a name aside from The Giver, is the only person in the community having any knowledge of the past and, well, anything and everything. And his job is to pass those memories, the wisdom, on to the next Receiver so that he or she may advise the Elders in matters. Of course, Jonas cannot tell his friends, or family, or anyone, any of this. He must keep it secret. Of course once Jonas learns how all of life’s best things are being repressed there must be a revolution. Naturally. That’s the basic plot of the movie. I’ll leave further details to be watched.
I found the pace of the film rushed. While the book is barely a couple hundred pages, the movie clocks in at about an hour and a half. It didn’t need to be a 2 and a 1/2 hour epic or anything, but there was definitely something missing in the middle. The best part of the book is the interactions between The Giver and Jonas. These were few in the movie. I’ll again draw a comparison to Ender’s Game – where nearly 2/3 of the book takes place in the Battle School, and is the bulk of the plot and pretty much the entire point of the book – but the movie fast forwards through it.
The novel is not a whizz-bang action romp. It’s a quiet, thoughtful story with a lot of exposition and internal dialogue. But that’s also what makes it so interesting. It’s Jonas’ slow exploration of what he is being given, how it unravels in front of him and he begins to discover and understand the world around him and what is missing. That is what makes The Giver such a great book. I think it also is much more poignant with a character of 12 years old, and not a good looking teenage boy who wouldn’t have a problem channeling a whiny Luke Skywalker. But here in the movie Jonas is learning a lot – very quickly. Yes, it’s alluded to that time is passing and it’s more than just a few days, but time skips ahead in huge leaps leaving out the interactions with The Giver. And then of course once Jonas makes the realization he alone must change the way things have been for generations. Yeah! Meryl Streep is a bad, bad lady and she must be stopped! You get the idea.
As far as building the world of the novel, and portraying the rest of the society, I thought this was done well. Yeah the bikes were stupid but the overall look and feel of the world, and the mannerisms of its inhabitants were well done. SPOILER: the whole barrier thing was…well…wtf.
None of the actors stood out as amazing, everyone did an equally good job. It should be noted however that Katie Holmes plays a stone cold bitch like a champ. Yikes. I thought Bridges did well with what he was given but there should have been so much more of him. So much more. He does such a good job portraying what probably a lot of us envision The Giver to be that it’s disappointing we don’t hear him impart some wisdom of his own to Jonas. Not to mention watching Bridges get that voice out of the awkward movement of his mouth was a spectacle all on its own. Oh, and Taylor Swift is in it and plays a piano. Weird.
Overall it was enjoyable, but even though I attempted to distance myself from the book – I couldn’t, fully. It’s a book that’s too important to my childhood and I couldn’t help but draw the comparisons. Despite the flaws I found the movie adequate.
The biggest hurdle for the movie I see is the current crop of Hunger Games loving YA readers not understanding the point of the movie, and leaving the theater with the impression it was mostly boring. Either way, I hope Bridges is happy with the result. I am…mostly. Go see it if you haven’t already. It’s worth seeing. But please, read the book. It’s so much more.
The Giver – C+