Rental Corner: “Giver” beyond soulless than any other adaptation
This is one of those rare moments when I actually prefer the novel over the adaption. And I don’t mean a novel I enjoyed, I mean one that I had to study in school and was disappointed with it. Heck, the whole class was not that thrilled with Lois Lowry’s Newbery Medal winning book about a society where sameness is of the norm and difference is banned. Years later and after seeing the big-screen adaption of “The Giver,” I’m finally convinced that what Lowry wrote was much better than what was translated to the movies. While I still don’t think fondly, I do appreciate the themes and what it was trying to say. To compare and contrast the two would be too long of a post so I’ll give you the “highlights” of my gripes.
In the novel, the world this story is set in was vaguely described as being a plain typical town that could be anything today. However, what made it work was how they never alluded to how technologically advanced this setting was. So you could argue that it was a small community that didn’t rely on much technology. The movie, on the other hand, ruins this by making it a dystopian setting. The look and design has sort of a Hunger Games quality with square houses and spiral roads. Its a very generic looking place that looks dull and lifeless. There’s no sense that it could be applied today or be anyone’s town. Its very much a future and that’s that. Maybe I didn’t catch on the “future” setting when I was reading or even remotely remember it, but all I recall is that there wasn’t much “high” technology to qualify as a future setting to me.
Though the way of life is very similar, as again, the idea of sameness is heavily pushed. People are assigned to be a family, they are assigned a baby, they are assigned a job, they can’t lie, they have to take medication in the form of an injection machine the size of a Happy Meal box, and free will is nowhere in sight. First off, the novel had them take pills to control their emotions which made it more interesting when one character keeps disposing them. Reducing it to a small machine that gives an injection looses the subtly and feels too complex. If they get their dose from a machine, what is the impact when we don’t see said needle getting injected? With the idea of pills, there is that choice even though they keep subjecting themselves to the meds.
Even having Meryl Streep as the high Elder constantly overlook each home feels too George Orwell and silly. I understand they are doing this big brother motif but there was a lack of security in this place which strengthen the story’s setting. We could argue this is being set in modern times and perhaps this small town is really hidden in plain sight. Wouldn’t that be a better idea? Doesn’t that sound more scary? Having all of this set in the future removes the fear as we just sit back and accept it as another future film with a big social message. It becomes stale right from the first 10 minutes when we already know what to expect from it and what the message will be.
Ok, so aside from my ranting, what is the story? Well a kid named Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) turns 16 years old among a few others and has to be given an assigned job. As it turns out, he’s presented with a more bigger role as a “Receiver” of memories. For you see, the old Receiver (Jeff Bridges) now named The Giver is seeking a new Receiver to keep memories of the past so the Elders can consult with someone of wisdom in case there’s a problem they have to decide beyond their control. And right here is my biggest problem with the film and the novel. This society of sameness is not all the way same as they keep one person on with emotion and knowledge of good and pain. If they wanted a society that completely ran on everyone being the same, why even carry one person that is different when they are able to go beyond the capacity of controlling emotion and being safe? I understand it was part of the novel but with the whole movie set in a futuristic world, it doesn’t make sense to have someone different around when they are so heavily pushing the idea of living similar lifestyles.
So the story is not all cracked up to be, how does the rest of the movie hold up? Well, surprisingly I felt it was really dull and not that engaging. For a movie that runs at 90 minutes without end credits, it feels really rushed and too ‘paint by numbers” in the direction. The basic story is there with Jonas getting memories and learning the horrible truth of his society but then an hour in, they go into a different direction that easily strays itself from the novel. Instead of Jonas running away with a baby that could hold some salvation, he runs away with a baby that could hold some salvation and engages into a cat and mouse game with the “big bad” dystopia that doesn’t want him alive. It really removes any form of subtly as a thought provoking story becomes a generic “rebel against the society” story. Even the love interest feels forced as his sweetheart Fiona (Odeya Rush) is giving an opportunity to follow in Jonas’ footsetps but then starts to recluse back to her old ways after the fear of what she is experiencing. This could have been a great idea showing the opposite effect to something wonderful Jonas has been seeing but it doesn’t really go deeper into it. She just changes her mind but then for no reason holds onto those emotions she is gaining back. Why is that? Its never explained.
The only thing viewers will notice is how the first 20 minutes are filmed in black and white. This is to reflect the sameness and in the original novel, all the inhabitants could see shade and grey. Its not till the end of the story where Jonas is able to see a world of color but this change happens way too early in the movie. Why couldn’t the flashbacks be in color only? Wouldn’t that be interesting? I know the change in the movie reflects him starting to understand the way of the world and the more he knows, the more his “sight of color” increases but its too painfully obvious and doesn’t come off as a wonder. Even when he’s introduced to the aspect of music, there is no charm. Why no push it further and have no musical score until the moment the Giver shows him? In fact, Jonas never got the concept of music at all in the novel so why even add this in when it doesn’t make much of an impact?
I should also say that this was a passion project by Jeff Bridges himself who even plays the title character. It took him about 20 years to get this off the ground and it shows. With the past “future” films we got from Hunger Games to Divergent, there’s really nothing new to offer here and feels late to the screen. And if you want to go further, this is very much every future Twilight Zone episode we saw so the message is something we already know to expect after seeing the first 10 minutes and we know what is going to happen. Even the performances feel tired and dull as characters act monotone and lifeless. You could argue that is how the people in this society act but when Jonas starts to see the world anew, he doesn’t express that enough. He looks on with depressed puppy eyes and doesn’t emote enough to convey that pain. Even Jeff Bridges feels surprisingly depressed in his performance as his character tries to coupe with his dead daughter who went through what Jonas did. You could argue that he’s constantly sad for this reason but even the Giver in the novel had his upside moments when showing something pleasant or trying to be optimistic.
As you can tell, I didn’t have a good time watching this and seeing how big I am on science fiction, I had no feelings toward it as well. The Giver could have been a much better film if it stayed true to the source and maybe not rush things so it doesn’t feel like an adaption that only exists just for the for the sake of one existing. Even bothersome is the age difference which really changes the tone of the story. It was more interesting seeing an 11 year child going through these moments of free will and questioning his place in life as his childhood was going away. It made the concepts of learning about death and war more tragic because its hard to break from that happy time you were as a kid and understand mature concepts at such a young age. In the movie, Jonas is 16 and it doesn’t matter because those elements would have been something to come across earlier so there is no impact. Why care when we see a teenager experience these things would it would be more interesting to see an 11 year old learn about these ideas? Here, its like he’s learning there’s no Santa Clause and can’t coupe with it. And when a movie like this is trying to convey that message this way while also changing things heavily to the point it feels less about social science fiction and more of a good vs. evil plot, you have something so removed from its source that it really feels forgettable. And never have I seen an adaptation this emotionless and soulless since Bo Welch directed The Cat in the Hat. And even in comparison, The Giver makes Dr. Seuss and his work more mature seeing how the idea of war can be alluded in The Butter Battle Book or tyrannic beings in Yurtle the Turtle. And when we start to realize how more mature literature like that is to this, it feels embarrassing to admit it.
Posted on November 27, 2014, in Rental Corner and tagged adaptaion, Divergent, Dystopia, Future, Logan's Run, Lois Lowry, Meryl Streep, Newbery Medal, Novel, The GIver, Twlight Zone. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.