The Giver: A Film Review

The GiverThe Giver (2014) Poster (film)

2014 | PG-13| directed by Phillip Noyce | screenplay by Michael Mitnick and Robert B. Weide

based on the book by Lois Lowry

(credit information and movie poster from IMDB)

*This post definitely contains spoilers. Read at your own risk!

Summary:

Jonas and his family live in a future utopian society. At age 18, each person receives his job assignment and takes his place as a contributing adult. Instead of receiving a typical job (nurturer, teacher, groundskeeper), Jonas becomes the Receiver of Memory for the community. He meets the Giver, who transfers memories from the past to Jonas. After living the first 18 years of his life in a colorless, feeling-less world, Jonas finally experiences emotion, color, and individuality. He sees the hidden problems in his “perfect” community and decides to be the instrument of change.

What Worked:

  • Although I expected it, the movie began in black and white, and then switched to color once Jonas received that memory from the Giver. It was a nice touch given that the story is told from Jonas’s point of view. It helps the viewer to identify with the changes Jonas experiences through the movie.
  • The role played by Meryl Streep, the Leader of the community, is a much more important one than in the novel. Emphasizing her role gave the antagonist a face rather than the conflict being Jonas vs. society in general. Thumbs up to the writers on that one.
  • The basic concepts laid out by Lowry in her novel remain the same. The ceremonies, family unit, houses, etc. come straight out of Lowry’s descriptions.
  • When Jonas runs away with baby Gabriel, his friend Fiona helps him escape and, as a result, receives basically a death sentence. The suspense gets pretty intense while you watch Jonas race for the boundary of memory, which represents not only the salvation of the community as a whole, but also of Fiona’s individual life.

What Doesn’t Work:

  • I almost want to apologize for saying this, but the book was sooooo much better! However, I will say that this movie, on it’s own, is pretty good. The concept of the community, the leader, and the rules really come to life and I appreciated the details. As an adaptation of the book, this film leaves much to be desired. I feel like the director and writers wanted to capitalize on the Hunger Games/Divergent/dystopia genre, so they aged the characters, added a little bit of a love story, and made the story more appealing to the 13-and-up crowd. (The novel is more on a 5th-7th grade level.)
  • The story about Rosemary, the previous Receiver of Memory, felt a little disjointed and created some unanswered questions about the relationship between the Giver and the Leader of the community. It felt a little awkward, like the writers wanted to go somewhere with that storyline but just dropped it instead.
  • Jonas’s friend Asher becomes a drone pilot, which makes him a “bad guy” when Jonas leaves the community. This change makes the climax of the movie rather formulaic I think. Asher is faced with the choice of whether to help his friend or obey the Leader. (In the novel, Asher is a Recreational Director, and Jonas leaves the community without a “high speed chase,” which isn’t as exciting I suppose, but it works with the non-confrontational, peaceful ideals of the community.) Of course, Asher chooses his friend at the last second.

Final Thoughts:

If you’re looking for the movie version of the novel, then you will probably be disappointed with is film. However, if you just want to watch a decent movie that makes you think, the this is a good option. The PG-13 rating comes from the more mature themes (euthanasia, for one), but there is no bad language or sexual situations. There are some violent scenes in the memories that the Giver transmits to Jonas.

As with all dystopian stories, The Giver is a commentary on our own world. The film (and the novel) raise important questions and bring issues to light. Interestingly enough, the same issues appear in both novel and film, but the way they are addressed make them relevant to different audiences.

The actors were believable, the set was well-executed, and the major theme is strong and poignant. This film is a great discussion-starter without being too didactic.

My rating: 4/5 stars

PS: I strongly recommend The Giver, along with its companion books, Gathering Blue, Messenger, and Son (with reservations on the last one) for 10-14 year olds and anyone who enjoys YA literature. I have especially enjoyed reading these books as an adult. They definitely improve with each subsequent read.

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