Friday, September 5, 2014

The Giver Review

I read Lois Lowry's book The Giver many years ago. It was originally published in 1993. Now that teenage dystopian survival movies have become so popular in wake of The Hunger Games, Hollywood seemed to think the time was right for a movie of The Giver (2014). The story has potential to be a great movie, but seemed afraid to take the necessary steps to make it a bold and memorable movie.
In the future society following a devastating war, "The Community" had decided to get rid of colors, therefore different races, and feelings. There is peace, harmony, and everyone has a purpose within The Community lead by the Chief Elder (Meryl Streep), and everyone is happy. Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) lives in his assigned family unit with his Father (Alexander Skarsgard) and mother (Katie Holmes) When Jonas and his friends Asher (Cameron Monaghan) and Fiona (Odeya Rush) turn eighteen, Jonas is chosen to be The Community's new Receiver of Memories. He enters into training with an old man called The Giver (Jeff Bridges). From The Giver, Jonas learns about pain, sadness, war, and all the unhappy truths of the "real" world. He quickly realizes that his community is fake. Confronted with this reality, Jonas faces the difficult choices about his own life and the future of The Community.
The Giver is a visually striking film. A lot of The Community had to have been computer generated, but it look clean and crisp and very comfortable. The first half of the movie is in black and white. Gradually more color seeps into the movie as Jonas learns what colors are and how to identify them. It's a very gradual transition that you hardly notice. Finally there are brilliant colors everywhere and it looks pretty. The camera work is above average and most of the sets are simple but elegant. There is plenty of stock footage and cut away scenes as The Giver gives Jonas memories. They are incongruent with the sterile, perfect Community but are still applicable to the story and look picturesque.
When a movie is based on a book it's hard not to compare the two. Really, the movie should stand on its own as a good movie independent of the book. There were so many changes between The Giver book and movie that they have to be brought up here. A few changes include Asher being assigned to be a Jet pilot. As soon as I heard that I knew exactly how Asher's character would play out and I was right. I didn't picture the story being nearly as sci-fi as it is depicted in the movie. There is a lot of subtle influence from Gorge Orwell's 1984. Jonas and his friends are supposed to be eleven going on twelve, but they are in their late teens in the movie. What's weird is they still frequently act like eleven-year-olds making pacts of eternal friendship, playing games, and getting into childish mischief. It's not unusual for young kids to behave that way but it's a bit creepy and weird for an eighteen-year-old to behave that way. Also, since they are older characters, there is an obligatory love interest between Jonas and Fiona which would have been very out of sorts if they were eleven. But thank goodness the movie doesn't use the overused teenage love triangle that is crammed into every young adult book movie these days, even though all the material was there. The movie plays up this "chosen one" trope which was completely absent in book; Jonas had been assigned to be The Receiver, not destined or chosen by fate.
The Hunger Games book focused on Katniss's perspective, while the movie added some scenes which allowed viewers a glimpse at the Gamemakers manipulating the games which Katniss would never have seen. In The Giver, there were added scenes that allowed us to see what was happening in The Community while Jonas makes a run for it. These scenes make perfect sense to the story and actually raised the stakes a bit more; this very well could have been going on in the book had the book's narrative taken a more omniscient perspective. Annoying as I found most of the new additions to the story, the ones towards the end of the movie were intriguing.
Even within the context of the movie's setting, there's a lot of holes in the plot. The Chief Elder seems to know all the history that The Giver knows; it's the function of The Giver to know the history and advise the Elders. If the Elders already know all the memories which The Giver is supposed to keep, why have a Giver in the community at all? Everyone in The Community takes injections to subdue their emotions, and yet when Asher tries to stop Jonas, Asher seems angry. We have no reason to believe Asher was skipping his injections, so was it even physically possible for him to be angry? There are plenty of others, and most of these plot holes seem to stem from not knowing the source material very well.
In the end, The Giver was a decent movie. Both the book and the movie got the same point across. The themes were still there, most of the story stayed intact, and it was, for the most part, a good time. Like the book, this isn't an action movie but a philosophical movie, contrary to what the trailers advertised. The great irony of The Giver as a movie that preaches the values of nonconformity, a lot of the story was changed to closely resemble The Hunger Games, Divergent, and other teen dystopian survival movies out there to capitalize on popular trends. Streep, Bridges, and Holmes were good, but the kid actors were pretty bland, even for characters who aren't supposed to have emotions. It's worth seeing, but it doesn't dig deep enough into the source material's thought-provoking ideas as it should have. This is a renter since it likely won't make a lasting impression upon its viewers. As a book, The Giver will doubtless continue to thrill readers of all ages, but the film version won't be enjoying a comparable shelf life.

Are there any other teen dystopia survivalist books out there? Would any of them make good movies? Are you getting burnt out on this subgenre altogether? Comment below and tell me all about it!

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