The Giver (2014): Bland Leads but Decent Adaptation

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The Giver is one of my favorite books from childhood, and the one that introduced me to the Post-Apocalyptic Genre. The story is introspective and reflective and reveals the horrors of the community very slowly. Lois Lowry is a master of the rising tension and the book does so really well. The movie is different. Here is a good article on the differences between the film and book: http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2014/08/18/the_giver_movie_s_differences_from_the_book_how_it_compares_to_the_lois.html

“The Giver” film had quite a few people on board with it’s creation. From three producers (Jeff Bridges, Nikki Silver, Neil Koenigsburg) two screenplay writers (Michael Mitnick, Robert B. Weide) but thankfully only one director (much more and I could see this film lacking any coherence), Phillip Noyce.

The basic plot is still the same as the book. After the Great War, in 2048 a community is founded where there are no colors and emotions and the world is one of sameness. It is here our protagonist Jonas is introduced and is assigned the role of the Receiver and to eventually become the Giver (the one who holds all the emotions and memories of the past and present). Jonas finds things slowly getting complicated for him as the illusions of his world break down and he is faced with the Community is missing in it’s sameness. The story continues from there.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Giver – Jeff Bridges plays the Giver and he does an amazing job. We get to see the details of his backstory, such as his daughter Rosemary and the guilt he feels at giving her the memories of a child lost (euthanized) and how it is common in their world to keep the population in check. We see that he had a relationship with The Chief Elder (played by Meryl Streep) and they have a great debate at the end on the value of emotion in which the Giver advocates for love against Streep’s fight for stability. It is a great scene that should have happened much earlier in the film. He is really what makes the film interesting and he does a great job as The Giver, than again I have never seen Jeff Bridges do a bad job, so this is more of his fantasticness.

The Chief Elder – In the book you don’t see her at all, and I wish we hadn’t had her get so involved this time. Streep is great, but her being so intrusive gay Jonas no reason to stay. She was not really good at giving people a desire to serve and want, which is a shame cause we get moments where she is like that. Still a great character, even if I’d have preferred her as force of nature or background force that doesn’t need to give orders…like in the book (The Elders).

When it’s Black and White – In the book there is not any color and for much of the film, and whenever we get the perspective of a community member, the film is filmed in black and white. I loved that and wish they’d kept it the entire time except for sparing moments. When it got all colorful the fact that it looks like “The Hunger Games,” “Divergent” and every other Young Adult Post-Apocalyptic Film became apparent. The black and white it what set it apart and part of what made the book so unique.

Gabriel – This baby is awesome! It cries at all the right moments and has some fantastic moments of awe and sorrow when Jonas has escaped. It was one tough baby and managed to be and feel how it was supposed to in all the different scenes. That is a feat in and of itself.

The Red Sled – The part of the book with the red sled is handled well, from Jonas’s first time having the memory of one to finding the house with the family and going down to meet them on the red sled with the baby Gabriel. I loved both those scenes.

Okay: Futuristic – The town is very futuristic, which didn’t quite lend itself to making the movie feel unique. There were drones, which are in every sci. fi. nowadays…at least the sparceness of the Home Units fit with the feel of the community and the injections were a neat update, instead of pills.

Jonas’s family – His Mom is the one who conforms, his Dad cares for and euthanizes children and his sister is represented as hope as she enjoys the joy he shares with her and remembers the thing he tells Gabriel, the baby their father takes in to try and save by giving more time.

Cons: The Three Leads – The first mistake was making a love triangle, I think they chose to though because the three leads cannot act, at all. Like it is pretty bad whenever they are on screen. So love triangle at leads adds drama to what for the most part is wooden acting.

Fiona – She just goes along with whatever Jonas wants for the most part and rebels even though she has no real experience with it. Her love doesn’t quite feel believable too and it’s not just because she hasn’t known it, Jonas’s family does alright in acting…she feels to flat, and nothing she does feels believable.

Asher – He is the friend who becomes a tool and decides to save Jonas because…reasons. He has a permanent scowl and when they say he’s the joker he isn’t funny. They should have got one of the Weasley twins for this role cause this guy didn’t cut it. His friendship ending didn’t feel real because it felt like it was never there, which made him protecting Jonas feel alien.

Jonas – What do you do when your lead has a blank expression for most of the movie? He has some good moments where he is excited with the Giver, but everything else felt so artificial. He was not the right person to choose for the lead. I really wanted to like his character, like I did in the books…but he was so bland that it was hard to form any sort of attachment. The scenes with the Giver only worked because it was Jeff Bridges who can carry a scene on his own. This was sad since this could have been Brenton Thwaites breakout role…though that goes for the other two teenage leads as well.

The Magic Emotion Wall – There is a magic emotion wall that once Jonas passes with Gabriel will give everyone back their emotions. It is a giant magic Mcguffin. I would have preferred the book ending honestly, in this they turn it into a revolution when before there wasn’t a way to reach anyone, people chose to be how they were in the end. This that is taken away and it is much more like a police state (drones and all) and the magic mcguffin wall gives an easy out. Also having them use to save Fiona who becomes his girlfriend in this was an easy play on emotion. It gives the happy ending to a book and story that is best left ambiguous. Jonas even says in the voiceover he has no idea if he’ll be returning back to the community. That would have been a good way to end it. Let people wonder if Jonas’s leaving prompted the beginning of change.

The Lack of Introspection – As seen by the Magic Emotion Wall Mcguffin and the Chief Elder arresting the Giver and Fiona because they helped Jonas escaped showed a major lack of introspection. Again, the people chose to be slaves in the books, it was comfortable, whenever Jonas introduced ideas people went away from him, he was the outsider who saw the truth of the world. Here anyone can know the truth after Jonas shows them something and passes the Magic Wall. Life isn’t that simple and especially a society formed after a great war should be much more entrenched in it’s ways that have worked for generations. This easy out cheapened the plot and made the problems above much more obvious and apparent.

This was an adaptation of one of my favorite novels that’s potential was not fully realized. It played with cool ideas that happened in the book (World in black and white, the red sled) but it needed better young actors and actresses for the leads and The Giver and The Chief Elder better functioned as influences than major characters directing events. It took away the choice of slavery in the books and gave us easy to consume tyranny, which honestly is used way too often in young apocalyptic fiction nowadays. Tyranny should be subtle and ignorance a choice…like in the book. So, would I recommend it?

I will say yes, though it is not nearly as good as the book (seriously, read the book) it is a good adaptation that is carried by Streep and Bridges. Giving them a lot of screentime, though it hurt how the story was shown us, strengthened the movie as a whole, cause the leads were terrible.

My final Score for this film is 7 / 10. Decent adaptation, worth it for the Chief Elder, Giver and the moments where it is true to the book.

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