I’m just going to say it: I hate the 2014 film adaptation of ‘The Giver’. Good God does it feel so good to say it. Granted I don’t hate it as much as other film adaptations of other media like ‘The Last Airbender’, but I’ve been wanting to say my opinion on this for a while.
Lois Lowry’s bestselling and award-winning novel ‘The Giver’, is a childhood treasure for future fans of ‘Fahrenheit 451’ and ‘1984’ (like me). To those who’ve never read the book, it is a powerful novel set in a distant future where sameness is the rule of a Community, meaning no religion, no sex, no violence, no crime, no individuality, no risk, and even the ability to see color is gone. To do this, the Elders of the Community got rid of the Memories of humanity’s past, and giving all of them to an old man called ‘The Giver’. The main character is a young boy simply named Jonas, who is given the chosen job as The Receiver of Memory. To put it in simple terms, he is to take Giver’s place and hold the Memories, from the beauty of sledding down a snowy hill in winter to the cruel ones such as war and famine. This ultimately leads to Jonas learning the powerful message of how important suffering is to individuals and humanity as a whole. Without pain and emotions, we cannot know the true meaning and appreciation of living our lives. This rings true to adults and especially children. This novel, while not a masterpiece of writing, is a great book that introduces readers to a serious level of literature through creative writing and likeable characters.
But I digress from talking about the novel; I’m here to talk about the film made as an excuse to copy the ‘Divergent’ film trilogy. There’s the sensitive teenager that turns into a rebel (check!), an older female villain with white hair that wants to maintain the system for the sake of maintaining the system (check!), backstories that involve telling about the past as opposed to showing it in a visual medium (check!), a romantic love interest not given much screen time amid the plot (check!), and finally, CGI vehicles that look like they should be in a different movie (check!).
However, I will say that for all the things done wrong with ‘The Giver’ film, they did get the style correct, with the film slowly going from monochrome in a few ways to colorful the more memories Jonas receives. Even the rushed scenes like Jonas absorbing the memories is genuine to watch, with footage of loving families together, celebrations between groups of people, and the interactions of people with animals moving you, especially near the final scene of the film.
Second and lastly, I found the casting pretty decent. I like how Jeff Bridges does everything he can to portray a cynical but intelligent grandfatherly figure, an aging man who has all the memories involving humanity’s past. He even acts very well when it comes to the more heartbreaking scenes. Brenton Thwaites as Jonas is decent as the sensitive main character who wants to learn more than he should, and Taylor Swift as the minor role of Rosemary got her two minutes of glory, but what caught me off-guard was seeing Cameron Monaghan as one of Jonas’s friends named Asher. For a guy who’s playing the Joker in ‘Gotham’, I love seeing Monaghan portray a goofy but innocent role.
Okay, now that I got those out of the way, it’s time to talk about why I hate this movie. While decent casting and perfect visual style are important for a novel, it doesn’t excuse lacking effort.
The biggest problem with this movie involves the changes from the classic source material. In the novel, Jonas was portrayed as a naïve and sensitive twelve year-old boy, not a teenager that looks like he walked off the set of ‘I Am Number Four’. I can understand the reasons behind making Jonas and his friends older than their written counterparts, since having teenagers in a film may bring in a young adult audience.
However, the reason behind Jonas and his friends being kids in the novel is because we see them go from childhood to young adulthood. We see Jonas go through the transition of innocence in childhood to the harsh reality when he becomes the Receiver and is given memories involving atrocities committed by humanity. We see Jonas as he slowly realizes how much Sameness in his Community stole from everyone as opposed to what was gained. Jonas also matures as a young boy and breaks his barrier of ignorance to explore the world and what can be gained from the human experience. With what the film did, it’s like making a film of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ with Scout as a fourteen year-old; it destroys the character development.
Speaking of character development, the film feels less like a film adaptation of ‘The Giver’ and more like a summary of the novel with a length of an hour and a half. The film focuses on the backgrounds and setting more than they do with the interactions between characters, and it feels rushed in important scenes and is less subtle.
Last of all, the biggest problem of the entire movie can be summed up in one sentence: There is no villain in ‘The Giver’! The writers of the film thought creating a villain would be beneficial to the plot (and an excuse to get Meryl Streep casted). But in the book this film is based on, there is no bad guy for Jonas to go up against. Much like ‘Fahrenheit 451’ by Ray Bradbury, Lois Lowry wrote that everyone in the Community chose the idea of Sameness, and didn’t realize the cost of lacking individuality, memories, and emotions. To put a Big Brother-like villain in this novel removes the characters of their complexity and identifiable weaknesses along with their fear of suffering and individual choices, thus whitewashing the message being conveyed to the audience. I know that Meryl Streep is a great actress and is doing her best, but the villain in this makes the antagonist of Divergent look subtle and interesting.
So that’s it. These are the reasons why I have the film adaptation of one of my favorite novels growing up. If they wanted to make the classic read into a film, why improve on it like they did with filming the ‘Hunger Games’ trilogy, or make it timeless like ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. In the future, I want to see a proper adaptation of this novel, and hopefully bring younger readers to love Loid Lowry’s novel more.
If you have any questions or already have an opinion on the novel, feel free to leave any comments. Thanks!