Movie Review: The Giver
I remember the first time I read Lois Lowry’s controversial and monumental children’s novel The Giver. I was in fourth grade. Still a wide eyed, innocent child with a mind overflowing with imagination, the fictional and yet seemingly plausible world of which Lowry painted such a vivid picture quickly became one of my favorite places both in fiction and reality. The themes presented in The Giver were so drastically strict and different I couldn’t help but be dumbfounded by a world where colors, animals, emotion and independence were done away for the sake of order and unity. How scary the thought was, especially to a fourth grader. At the time I was yet to learn my place in the world (I could argue I still am), so to read about another young child, in this case the main protagonist Jonas, struggling to find his place in his world was enthralling. These words of wonder and strength that poured off the pages and into the minds of many a grammar school student are rivaled by few. Some could argue that apart from To Kill a Mockingbird, The Catcher in the Rye and Harry Potter, Lowry’s The Giver is one of the most important books for a child with a developing mind must read. These lessons of courage, love and individuality are some of the most important lessons taught through literature.
So with all the love and appreciation that I have for this book, imagine my disappointment upon seeing the movie and learning that through whatever sort of adaptation process screenwriters Michael Mitnick and Robert B. Weide implemented, most of those wondrous and creative elements were lost and replaced with flashier imagery and easier material. Yes the movie looks great, but so do most supermodels. And the movie, as for those same supermodels, is mostly hollow and lacking in depth. What made Lowry’s book so magnificent was the rich character development and the profound storytelling. But in the film, directed by Phillip Noyce (Patriot Games, Salt), the creativity and development is butchered into a product that is easier to sell, easier to complete and easier to avoid falling asleep during (thanks to it’s ridiculously short 94 minute running time). The actors are not to blame however as newcomers Brenton Thwaites (Jonas) and Odeya Rush (Fiona) prove worthy enough (with what their given) of the pivotal characters, even though Fiona’s added development was unnecessary. Katie Holmes and Alexander Skarsgard’s performances as Jonas’ unnamed mother and father are redeeming for the film, especially Katie Holmes with a surprisingly dark Stepford Wive-y turn giving the film the grim, emotionless quality that it really needed if it was to remain like the source material even just a little. Meryl Streep acted a typical great Streep performance, however her part was mostly created for the film as the chief elder is barely present in the book but she’s turned into an almost main character for the film, bumping up her potential villain factor throughout. Jeff Bridges has great potential as the title character however the screenwriters somehow saw fit to cut down his role the most, leaving him with few genuine moments of emotional strength and with a more try-hard result that lacks the guidance and insight that the book’s Giver came with. Also one moment that I really disliked in the film was the premature introduction of music in the plot. Throughout the novel the Giver shares memories with Jonas as his newfound profession of Receiver requires, but there is one memory that the Giver holds onto for himself until the very end. The memory of music. This moment really creates a deep sense of love and trust between Jonas and the Giver, however in the film, music is presented so unceremoniously early the moment simply disappears before it can even occur.
Many people have made the argument that these changes were made to make the movie more commercial, to make it more suitable for a wider audience and to make it more exciting. But what’s the point if the finished product is mainly lifeless and contrived? Yes some of the changes work, such as Fiona’s monologue at the end right before she’s released or the sequence where all of Jonas’ memories are returned to the community and touching images flash by on screen while the other characters sit in silence and weep for what they were denied feeling all suddenly coming back in full force, but overall the movie is a skeleton of what it should have and could have been. After 21 years, you’d think an adaptation could be born from the text that was rich in the same ideas brought forth by Lowry’s words, but I guess that thought was asking too much.
If it weren’t for Katie Holmes surprising performance, Marco Beltrami’s haunting and sweeping score and Ross Emery’s cinematography this movie would have been on its way to becoming a total failure. Let’s hope in the end this movie will stand as a lesson to screenwriters to not skimp on detail and meaning just to increase profit. Although that too may be asking too much.