Giving, Receiving, and Wanting
Phew. I just got back from seeing the film adaptation of The Giver, and I am pleased to report that the terrible, sinking feeling I have had ever since they started releasing trailers for it (actually, ever since they announced Taylor Swift was in the cast) was unwarranted. Obviously no film adaptation is ever actually going to do everything right, but I do feel that this one did enough right that I am glad to have seen it, and feel comfortable recommending it to others. I have done my best to leave spoilers out of this review, but the few parts where spoilers were necessary I have put in white text. If you are okay with spoilers, highlight the blank spots in between plus signs to reveal.
Adapting text to film is never going to be an easy task, especially books like The Giver that have so much internal monologue. Moral struggles within a character’s mind can be riveting on the page, but are nearly impossible to depict on film without an exposition dump. Because of this challenge, I am personally willing to forgive the movie for creating an actually villainous character to depict the conflict of decisions. The fact that they had Meryl Streep playing this fleshed-out character certainly helped this decision. It was actually pretty great. The world building and exposition had to be done somehow, and there is no one I would rather have do it.
The book is a very short one, so getting a full-length movie out of it was always going to be a struggle. The unabridged audiobook is only four hours long. Therefore it makes sense that they had to expand the plot somehow. For the most part I feel they did this well, with one notable exception, but more on that later.
For reasons completely incomprehensible to me (or the rest of the internet), the first trailer they released for this movie was in full color. This led to the fear that they were going to completely skip everything having to do with developing the ability to see color. Well, I am very pleased to report that the coloring was done perfectly. It was fantastic, it was beautiful, and I cannot imagine a way they could have done it better. They gradually increased the saturation as Jonas’ training increased, they switched back to black and white for scenes focused on characters other than Jonas and the Giver, and it was always subtle and powerful and perfect.
Another serious fear I had was that they would increase the dystopian sci-fi elements to over-the-top levels. They did, but much to my surprise it didn’t destroy the story as much as I thought it would. Sure, I would have loved to see the community look more similar technology-wise to current levels to make it feel more plausible, but much to my surprise the holograms, hover-drones, tractor beams, replacement of pills with injections, and force fields actually weren’t as distracting as I expected. In fact, the technology added one thing that I am very grateful for: they gave us a solid reason for why + the memories escape when Jonas leaves.+ As much as I love the book, I have never been able to deal with the mechanics of + the memories just flowing back to the community as Jonas puts distance behind him. + As weird as it is, I like the addition of some sort of scientific technology explaining how the heart of the book is possible.
Above all, I am very pleased to announce that the scene in which Jonas learned the truth about releasing was perfect. The movie did not try to pull the punch. After my well-documented disappointment in the film adaptation of Ender’s Game, this was a relief. Unfortunately, they did choose the coward’s way out in at least two key areas. For starters, the ending was much less ambiguous than the book. In the book there is no confirmation that the plan to + release the memories + was successful; Jonas just has to hope. It would have been fantastic if Hollywood had the guts to leave the audience unsatisfied, but after the backlash that Inception got I think I am willing to forgive their hesitance in this case.
And now, for the great crime. The crime that was in the forefront of all of our minds, the one crime Lois Lowry begged the studio not to commit: they built up Fiona into a serious love interest. This is the second instance of cowardice; the movie was unwilling to depict sexual desire without romantic love. + Shoving a needle into a baby’s skull? + Sure, they’ll do that, but best not let the kiddies think that sex can ever even be contemplated without being attached to true love! Part of the reason The Giver is such an important book is it is one of the few books given to kids so young that describes sexual desire and admits it is something worth having. Well, that one great, progressive voice has now been given the Puritan treatment. I do not forgive this crime, but I am also very pleased to say that the rest of the movie was good enough that this did not kill the whole thing.
Everything else I have to say about the movie is much more nitpicky. At the beginning I was willing to forgive depicting the Community as essentially an island surrounded by a 1000 foot fog-enshrouded cliff, but my forgiveness was revoked once they had to film + the escape scene. If the movie was going to insist on establishing the barriers to leaving the community so strongly I expect the movie to give me a better escape plan than a motorcycle jump. + I also really wish they kept the blue eyes as the signal that someone has the capacity to see beyond, but they replaced it with a birthmark. This decision opened up casting abilities greatly, but if they insisted on changing The Giver’s beard on me I expect them to leave the eyes! I really enjoyed the way the movie depicted familial love and nurturing. Usually when Hollywood talks about father-figures loving their children it only done to give them motivation to defeat the villain that is threatening their family. Jonas is completely adorable playing with Gabe, Alexander Skarsgård shows real delight at playing with the infants in the nurturing center, and Jonas and The Giver’s goodbye is fantastic. I would have preferred it if Katie Holmes’ character was depicted as less uptight and more clueless, but thankfully Skarsgård nailed the cluelessness on the head.
All in all, the panic I felt as I walked into the theater was unwarranted. I actually liked some of the changes they made because it felt in line with the book I knew and loved, and was just the extended edition. The overall feeling of the movie is very much that it was created by someone who loved the source material, and was willing to do what it took to adapt it to a different medium. I am very glad this movie now exists, and I do feel that it was worth the 15 year wait.