The Giver, based upon the critically acclaimed and beloved novel by Lois Lowery, is about a futuristic Utopian society where the people have no real emotions, choices, or knowledge of death. A teen named Jonas is assigned to be the receiver of memory: the person who must carry all the memories of color, pain, human history and emotion, so that the rest of the community doesn’t have to. But when Jonas receives these memories of the past from the Giver (played by Jeff Bridges), Jonas realizes that his so-called “perfect” community would be better off having real emotions and memories.
The expectations for this film were high because The Giver is a beloved novel. Unfortunately, the movie does not compare favorably with the book or many other movies that were released this past summer. The Giver‘s main challenge stems from the fact that it was made into a movie in the first place. Because the story had to be transferred from being a piece of literature to being a film, the narrative and characters had to be changed to conform to the medium of film. For example, in the novel there is no real villain one can point to. Even though the community members allows horrible things to happen, one cannot hate them for their mistakes because they are ignorant of their wrongdoings. In the film, however, there is a definitive “bad guy” in the form of the chief elder (played by Meryl Streep) who enforces unfair laws, imprisons several characters, pursues our hero, and even tries to keep the love interests apart. This dramatization clashes with the novel and takes away from the film’s quality and impact.
In addition, the relationship between Jonas’s best friends, Asher and Fiona, is much more emotional in the film. In the text, the two share many emotions in the form of their friendship and intense care for each other, but in the movie they break rules for each other, which, according to the premise of the novel and the movie, is something people wouldn’t do for each other in this colorless, emotionless community. Jonas’s friend, Fiona, serves as the love interest in the film and I do admit that this was something I missed in the novel. However, their friendship takes up most of the film’s 139 minutes. Other relationships, like those of Jonas and his family and Jonas and his fun best guy friend, Asher, are left very under-developed. Even the most important relationship, Jonas and the Giver, is left on the sidelines for most of the film. We are told that the Giver loves Jonas, but they don’t share many intimate moments on the screen. Even Jonas’s personality is not shown very well. For example, we are told he’s intelligent but we never see any evidence of that fact.
Despite the plethora of problems, there are good parts to the film. The acting was very good and I liked the transition from black and white to color as Jonas gained more memories, similar to the transition in the book. However, although there are some well-done parts of the film, I found myself nitpicking scenes and being annoyed about the differences between the novel and the film, especially in the third act where the movie turns into a suspense thriller, clashing, once again, with the book.
I’ll give The Giver a C-: though it had some good acting performances, it wasn’t absorbing enough and compared unfavorably with the novel.
By Sam Finbury