A Not So Giving Portrayal of Lois Lowry’s The Giver
A Commentary on the Book to Movie Adaptation.
By Jacquelyn Phillips
The moment I saw that The Giver, written by Lois Lowry, was coming to theaters, I shrieked, nearly ruining the hearing of the friend who provided me with this knowledge. He also provided me with the details that Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges were cast as the two main roles, proceeding to lift my excitement as high as the Empire State Building. Although one of the “assigned” readings that one must do when in elementary school, The Giver actually wound up being one of those books that I had enjoyed perusing over childhood summer break. However, I couldn’t remember the exact details of the novel, and wanting to be totally prepared for the epic showing of the film, I reread the book front to back in a matter of four or so hours.
This was my mistake.
While the book was still brilliant—written well enough for an adult to appreciate but not so academic as to shun kids away—the movie lacked the gusto necessary for this book to really shine on the big screen.
For example, the acting was subpar. I understand that the characters are trying to fit a certain role but that doesn’t give them an excuse to completely disregard the characteristics created by a brilliant novelist. Even casting was not accurate. A twenty-three year old actor or actress cannot play the part an eleven year old that just turned twelve. The entire time I was watching the film, I wondered if the characters were eighteen—a whole seven years older than what they are supposed to be. It was distracting and very misleading to those who have not had the chance to read the book yet.
Director Phillip Noyce and writers Michael Mitnick and Robert B. Weide took some serious liberties when it came to “re-writing” the novel into a screenplay and ultimately, turning it into a high-quality film. Where the book does have a slight nod to science fiction, the movie embraces the futuristic technology and society as if that was what the book was truly centered around. Rather, the focus should have been on the dystopian aspects of the society: small housing units, small neighborhoods, commercial buildings attached to one another, small groups of families who all know one another, grey colored tunics and a set of rules so far engrained in the minds of society as a whole that nothing seems to be amiss. Yes, the movie keeps the scene where we learn what “releasing into elsewhere” means, but then they forgot to add what happened to Rosemary—as if that story didn’t need to be finished through to the end. Essentially, the movie changes every single aspect of the novel in a way that they believed the audience would enjoy—this was the real problem.
Nowadays, if there isn’t a love story, there doesn’t seem to be a love story at all. What happened to the independent characters that could survive without a significant other in their life and be happy about it? Throughout the novel, Jonas learns to live for himself—not for another, and certainly, not for Fiona. The reader feels for Jonas because he is truly alone. Even the Giver, his only friend, shuns him from his study on the worst of days and refuses to show Jonas any real love until he decides to leave society and return the memories to those who don’t understand—who don’t remember. In the movie, Fiona begins to show love, Jonas feels more than just stirrings for her, and even the Giver appears to be more loving than he should be.
I understand the pressure of Hollywood, but this move was an unacceptable portrayal of the novel that covered a large portion of the syllabus early on in the elementary school year. The writers and the director could have done much more with the screenplay and with the story. I wouldn’t recommend seeing it in theatres. If you feel the need to see it, wait until it hits the Redbox outside the nearest 711 and you can rent it for one dollar.