From Page to Screen Review: The Giver (2014)

Book Review

In 1993, Lois Lowry wrote and published The Giver, a book that has sold over 10 million copies and received critical acclaim, winning several awards including the Newbery Medal the year following its publication. Over the next twenty years, Lowry penned three books within the same era. The Giver isn’t beloved by all its readers, and certainly not all of its critics, but regardless, it is considered successful based off its sales alone.

Most of the people I have asked about The Giver told me they read it in middle school or high school. The rock I must have been hiding under was huge, because I hadn’t heard of the The Giver until I saw the first teaser for the film adaptation. In June, I read The Giver, along with its three counterpart sequels. Personally, I would consider The Giver the strongest read out of the quartet, although I enjoyed all four books.

What I appreciated most when reading The Giver is how simple the plot is. Jonas is about to turn twelve years old, reaching the age where his childhood is complete and his life job is assigned to him. Pills are administered to each inhabitant of the area, where people speak with limited vocabulary, live in a colorless world, and are void of emotion. The Giver‘s universe strives for utopia, but the book’s setting is dystopian in nature as the plot builds and Jonas comes to terms with his assigned life position, Receiver of Memories. The Giver transmits memories of the world’s history to Jonas, who discovers color, experiences feelings, and understands that more exists beyond the borders of his small, limited world.

Comic by Brian Warmoth

Unity is what Jonas’s world consists of. Uniqueness, self-identity, and love are all new concepts he learns from the Giver’s memories. Lowry was onto something as many other future authors, including Suzanne Collins (The Hunger Games), Veronica Roth (Divergent), and James Dashner (The Maze Runner) have all been informed and inspired by her work to pen their well-received dystopian book-turned-film series.

I would give the book The Giver 

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Have you read The Giver? If so, what did you think of it? Please join the discussion below, because I would love to know your thoughts!

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Film Review

Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) brushes his teeth with a certain number of strokes. He walks a precise number of steps to the bus each morning. He combs his hair, dresses himself, and carries his life in a predictable nature not because he is a creature of habit, but because habit conclusively defines his life. His existence is based upon following his strict code of patterns that he has fully succumbed to.

 

Harold Crick would fit well within the The Giver‘s universe, but unfortunately his character exists only in the lovely 2006 film Stranger Than Fiction. It is not until Crick hears his life narrated by the author, horrified to find that she is killing him off, that Harold chooses to stray from his pattern-formed life. Unfortunately for the movie The Giver (2014), the characters stray far from their built-in nature, and not for any reason that would make sense within their universe.

I have learned that when I see a movie based off a book, I have to accept that certain licenses will be taken, whether it’s to fit into a film narrative better, or perhaps certain dialogue or actions would be communicated better on screen. In the case of The Giver, I think all of the wrong liberties were taken with the source material. Given its star-studded cast, led by Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges, it’s certainly a disappointment that The Giver went off the rails almost immediately, failing to get back on the rest of the film’s short runtime.

Other than a very short explanation opening the film, the universe of The Giver was never well-established. From the get-go, we don’t care about rooting for Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), even with all the charisma the young actor put into the role. The film pushes on, forcing viewers on a ride that fails to pause on important moments, defining dialogue, or pressing exchanges between characters. Even when the Giver (Jeff Bridges) is transmitting his memories to Jonas, the memories lack the warmth, terror, or joy in which they are described very earnestly in the book. Chicago film critic Richard Roeper described the memories as “something you’d find in an Apple commercial,” appearing to look more like stock photos or video footage you could find anywhere on the Internet.

The screenplay stumbled over itself, and no matter what came out of the Giver’s or the Chief Elder’s (Meryl Streep) mouths, the words felt forced to move along with the screenplay, because that is what they were written for. I found myself asking constant questions throughout the movie, like the following:

Why did Fiona (Odeya Rush) stop taking her pill if she was programmed never to question the idea of taking a pill?

Why did Asher (Cameron Monaghan) suddenly choose to trust Jonas and not kill him when he had never experienced an emotion?

Why would the Chief Elder select Asher to hunt down and kill Jonas if he was only a first-year recruit?

How could the Chief Elder be able to use words that didn’t exist within their world to converse with the Giver?

How did Taylor Swift weasel her way into the movie in the first place?

The answer to all of these questions deals with the poor screenplay of the film. In a fictional universe, there is an established set of rules. Once you start breaking the rules, the writing falls flat, and the story implodes. This was the fate of The Giver and the reason it performed so poorly with both critics and fans alike. The point of The Giver is lost on viewers, because the movie wanted to be something it wasn’t, losing both its focus and viewers’ attention.

I feel generous in giving The Giver 

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It’s your turn. Did you see The Giver? If not, do you plan to? If so, what did you think of it? Please join the discussion below, because I would love to know your thoughts!

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Compare/Contrast THE GIVER’s Book and Film

Which did you hear of first, the book or the film? I actually heard about the film first, but I read the book before seeing the movie.

What was your favorite and least favorite parts of the book? I loved the simple plot, and I liked how the Giver introducing Jonas to history changed Jonas – and made him want to change the way things are too. I didn’t really have a “least favorite” part. I didn’t think it was a perfect book, but I thought it was very well-written. It was definitely a page-turner.

Do you think it was inspired by any other books? Definitely – I kept thinking of Fahrenheit 451 the entire time I was reading it.

What was your favorite and least favorite parts of the movie? One thing I appreciated about the movie was the B&W in the beginning. I think they could have done more with it, like drawing out the color of the apple in the book when Asher and Jonas were tossing it. The screenplay was certainly my least favorite part. It really destroyed what could have made a great movie.

Do you think the movie was inspired by any other movies? I thought it had a similar universe to Equilibrium (2002). Very devoid of emotions.

Will the book, movie, or both forms, stand the test of time? Definitely the book. The movie fell short, and it’s sad, because Jeff Bridges had wanted to make the film for years. If he had had the chance earlier, perhaps more time could have been spent on the screenplay.

I answered fewer questions for the compare/contrast section, considering how short both the book and film were. Which form will stand the test of time to you – the book, the movie, or both? Please join the discussion below, because I would love to know your thoughts!

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6 thoughts on “From Page to Screen Review: The Giver (2014)

  1. This movie bummed me out so much. The book has such potential and it was so bland. Although maybe it is a hard sell because a lot of the movie is them sitting in an office having the memory sesisons. I think a more independent director like the Coen Brothers could have done something more creative with it . This was just lame.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey there! Thanks for the whirlwind of likes and comments! I’m totally with you. Perhaps in different hands, this film could have been a better representation of the book. It’s really too bad, because I found the book to be so compelling! The film fell very far from the mark.

      Liked by 1 person

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