The Book: 1993
The Giver by Lois Lowry (Laurel-Leaf Books, an imprint of Random House)
The Film: 2014
The Giver directed by Phillip Noyce (Walden Media)
If you’ve read my review of the book, you will know that I wasn’t blown away by it. But I was looking forward to seeing how the film handled this dystopian story about a “perfect” world free from pain and conflict. In The Giver, Jonas is assigned the honoured position of Receiver of Memory, a member of the community who, when his training with the Giver is complete, will possess all of the memories of the past so that the rest of his community is not burdened by them.
Overall I think this story worked better as a movie than as a book (something I almost never say). The fact that Jonas’s world is black-and-white is very subtle in the book but it translates well to the screen and is instantly understandable. Seeing the different colours slowly enter Jonas’s world is visually satisfying.
Quite a few changes were made to the storyline for the film but for the most part they were necessary changes. Character roles were altered or expanded, such as Meryl Streep’s role as the Chief Elder, which was made a main character when she barely appeared in the book. I was initially confused when Jonas’s friends received different jobs than in the book, but it wasn’t arbitrary; rather, the change in their jobs made for a more character-focused storyline. The only downside to this, for me, was that we didn’t get to see as much of the different facets of the community.
I assume the ages of the characters were increased from twelve to sixteen to make it more of a teen movie, hoping to capture the attention of fans of recent dystopian book-to-film successes like The Hunger Games and Divergent. (Though there is really no question which is more entertaining. Hint: It’s not The Giver.)
Also, the film got a hefty dose of urgency that was so lacking in the book. It needed it.
On the flip side, there were other, more minor, details that I don’t understand why they were altered, like the Receivers having birthmarks instead of pale eyes as they do in the book.
A bit cheesy at times, but reasonably well executed, I think the film does a good job of reworking a classic children’s book. It is a thoughtful and life-affirming film I’m glad I watched at least once.
Have you seen this movie? Share your reactions in comments.
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