The Giver, starring Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Brenton Thwaites, Alexander Skarsgård, Odeya Rush, Katie Holmes, and Taylor Swift
The Giver by Lois Lowry was one of the books I read in middle school, and of the stories covered throughout school, it was always one of the ones I remembered. Even though I’ve since forgotten most of the details, including what grade I was even in when I read it, I’ve remembered others. The utopian society, the lack of colour, the escape. Upon hearing about the movie adaptation of it, I thought it was brilliant to be able to re-experience it again.
We start with Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), a teenager who has completed school and is about find out what his career will be as decided by the Elders – and announced by the Chief Elder (Meryl Streep). Obviously, Jonas is chosen for a special job, as the Keeper of Memories, which he receives from The Giver (Jeff Bridges).
The Keeper of Memories is the only person who still holds all memories from the past, which have been erased from the minds of everybody else in order to mainstream order and control. These memories include everything from war, to colour, pain, music, nature, weather, love. Anything that can differentiate anyone from anyone else.
The approach to the film adaptation comes from several different angles. How good the story is; how the adaptation itself is done; how well the casting and acting is. My 12-year-old self (give or take a few years) loved the story so the first criteria is already met.
Not remembering the smaller details from the book allowed more liberties on the part of the filmmakers than I would have accepted from something like, for example, any of the Harry Potter films. However, it is unfortunate that in this post-Hunger Games, Divergent, (Twilight…) world we live in, there are some requirements to make the film fit into the genre of young adult dystopian films, such as the portrayal of the antagonist, and the subtly implied triangular relationship between Jonas, Fiona (Odeya Rush) and Asher (Cameron Monaghan) that never fully gets realized – probably because Fiona and Asher aren’t nearly as important in the book as they are in the film.
Pretty soon, the film begins to focus more on the relationship between Jonas and The Giver, though it seems to be misguided in what could have been an opportunity to create a more ominous setting (and thus allowing more screen-time from Meryl) and therefore a greater contrast for what Jonas’ desires are as the story progresses.
There are lessons to be learned and realizations to be made but they are distracted by other things in what ultimately ends up as a lot of lost potential.
The Giver sticks close enough to the story to provide the main points to be gained for those willing or able to fill in the blanks on their own and extrapolate from there. Otherwise, it misses the mark in a lot of ways and doesn’t quite do the right justice to the book. What should have been a fulfilling experience on film doesn’t feel full enough.