* Warning: There will be spoilers in this post. Plus, it’s my first movie review, so it might not be that great. 🙂
I was about 13 years old when The Giver was published. I was immediately entranced by this seemingly perfect utopian community: one that is free of sadnesses such as crime, starvation, and pain. The citizens of the community have clear rules to follow and very specific roles, no matter their age. This perfect society comes at a cost though – in order to maintain the “sameness” (the reason for peace in the community), citizens are denied things that set us apart. Things like music… color… race… love. Memories of these, along with more painful memories such as war, poverty, and loss are kept by the Receiver of Memories. A new Receiver, Jonas, is appointed to receive the memories, and the current Receiver now becomes the Giver. Jonas and the Giver create a plan for Jonas to leave the community, which will cause all of the memories – the beautiful and the painful – to be released into the community. He succeeds in escaping, and the Giver remains to help the citizens cope with the shock.
The Giver immediately became one of my favorite books and has had a profound effect on me. It is by far the most thought-provoking book I’ve encountered, simultaneously helping me to enjoy the things in life that I take for granted and deeply disturbing me at the same time. I have reread the book almost every year since it was published in 1993, and every time I read it I’m impressed by this well-maintained community yet angered and saddened at what it costs to obtain it.
Like so many other devoted fans, I have spent the past 21 years anxiously awaiting a film version to be released. I think it took only about 10 seconds into the preview before I knew what it was, and I was beside myself with excitement. Despite the numerous inconsistencies there were, I decided to go into the movie with an open mind.
I saw The Giver this past weekend, and I’m at a loss. I feel like I’ve been cheated – like I’d been waiting most of my life to go to Vegas only to have all my money stolen the moment I finally get there. There were many things I absolutely loved, things that were exactly as I’d pictured them in my head all these years. There were things that I hadn’t really thought about yet made perfect sense onscreen. There were things that were inconsistent with the book, as expected, although I couldn’t see any real reason for them to be. And there were things that were so completely off base, they almost ruined the whole experience for me.
I loved the way the community was laid out – very symmetrical, clean lines, orderly. Everything is identical and balanced with a futuristic yet non-spacey feel. Some of the details were well-thought out – I especially loved how the bicycles didn’t have spokes – one less way for someone to potentially injure themselves, thereby avoiding potential pain. The movie began in black and white, exactly the way I’d imagined it would be. As Jonas receives memories, viewers are shown footage of various events – both good and bad – around the world: people of different races, celebrations, murder, animals, weather, war, and the small joyful moments in life we take for granted, like blowing out birthday candles and playing on the beach. While some have reviewed these parts of the film as “cheap stock footage,” they made me feel much more connected to the story.
But where the book made me think about humanity and what we might have to sacrifice to create a perfect and peaceful world, the film did nothing even remotely close to that. The movie felt shallow, and the injustices of this society were brushed over without any time for them to make an impact. Major scenes in the book, such as the Ceremony, felt rushed and lost the importance and heaviness they held in the book. The “releasing” of the infant twin was heartbreaking, but nowhere nearly as haunting as it was when I read it. At some point the movie took a very disappointing turn, and tasers, motorcycle chase scenes, and jail cells were involved – in my opinion, cheapening the entire story.
I find it completely frustrating that this movie was not done right. That the slow, deep undertones of the book were completely brushed over by a rushed and forced script. After recently reading and watching The Fault in Our Stars, where the book and film matched nearly scene-for-scene, I don’t understand why it took 21 years to make this movie… and so poorly at that. The director had an opportunity to tell an incredibly deep and unique story written in an incredibly deep and unique way, and instead chose to follow the footsteps of the current dystopian novels and aim for cookie-cutter action and romance scenes. Sad.
Now, I’ll admit that I was in full-on tears at the end. Despite the many flaws in the movie, the story still cuts me right through the heart. But that’s a testimony to Lois Lowry’s talents, not to those of the director, special effects team, or the actors. I shall remain a loyal fan of the novel, but I’m okay not seeing the movie again. Instead, I’ll stick to what I’ve been imagining in my own head for the past 21 years. 🙂