Review: The Giver (Book & Movie)

I finally got a chance to rent The Giver on DVD last week, and I wanted to give my two cents on it.

*GENERAL SPOILERS TO FOLLOW*

I read The Giver for the first time when I was in the sixth grade. It was one of the only school required reading books that I ever liked and I remember thinking at the time that it was uncharacteristically good compared to the rest of our reading assignments. It was also the first dystopian book I’d ever read, though I didn’t know at the time there was a name for the genre. So, needless to say, this book was extremely important to me. I had high expectations for the movie, and was also extremely skeptical of what I was about to watch.

But first, a little background. The book was published by author Lois Lowry in 1993. Its set in a place known only as “the community” and populated by residents who’ve achieved a post-Marxist ideal of a classless, conflict-free society through the chemical suppression of emotion and the erasure of all suspect stimuli such as books, colors, weather, etc. from the historical record. However, one man, known to the community as the Receiver of Memory, is tasked with keeping all human experience catalogued inside his own mind to advise the community based on knowledge from the past. Jonas, the main character and narrator, is chosen to take his place.

My first impression was that the community was far more technologically savvy than I had expected. I had always pictured regular bicycles and less modern looking “dwellings.” I had always assumed that the more humble lifestyle was chosen on purpose and that the only remaining advanced technology came in the form of medicines. I certainly was not expecting drones, though I guess they were never explicitly ruled out as an option by the book.

I was, however, pleased with the way that the film was shot colorless. The entire community is colorblind, purposely, and being able to see Jonas discover color for the first time was especially important to myself and many other dedicated readers. It was excellently done.

Unfortunately, it was pretty much the only thing that stayed true to the book. Jonas’ character was far too old (he was supposed to be 12), his relationship with Fiona was extremely overplayed, and his attachment to Gabriel was underdeveloped. In the book Jonas spent far more time with both the Giver and Gabriel; he had more time to receive memories as well as pass them on, making it not only essential that Gabriel leave with him, but also desired.

Upon finishing the movie I asked my dad what he thought of it. He said, “I think it’s missing about ten more minutes.” This is, of course, in reference to the very unclear ending written by Lowry herself. In the book, Jonas finds the sled he saw in the first memory that he received from the Giver. He sees it as a symbol of freedom and salvation and he rides it down the hill into the future. In the movie, the same was true, only it came after a massive high speed chase involving drones. The buildup was different and that made it seem like there was supposed be more to the story. It left the ending flat and unfinished.

Overall, I’d have to give this movie a three star rating. The actors were good and the script ok, but in the end it just wasn’t the adaptation that I was looking for. I wouldn’t see it again.

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