I first got introduced to The Giver when a good friend mentioned the book, saying that it was one of the few books that hugely impacted her and changed her life. I promptly got the book from the library and read all of the books in the series (there are four) in less than two weeks. I even ended up liking it enough to buy it, which, for me is pretty big. 😉 I was hesitant about the movie, being a member of The Book Is ALWAYS Better (No Exceptions) Club. But after PluggedIn gave it four and a half stars, I wasn’t too worried anymore. Note: I don’t base my opinions of movies on PI reviews, in case you were wondering. I like some movies that PI has rated very low. However, I do value PI’s opinion very highly. But I digress. Second Note: This is the movie review, not the book review. I’ll address the pressing questions that the book purists most likely have at the end of my review. (See Eva’s review of the book here.)
‘The haunting story of The Giver centers on Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), a young man who lives in a seemingly ideal, if colorless, world on conformity and contentment. Yet as he begins to spend time with The Giver (Jeff Bridges), who is the sole keeper of all the community’s memories, Jonas quickly begins to discover the dark and deadly truths of his community’s secret past. With this newfound power of knowledge, he realizes that the stakes are higher than imagined – a matter of life and death for himself and those he loves most. At extreme odds, Jonas knows that he must escape their world to protect them all – a challenge that no one has ever succeeded at before.’ (from the official website)
The Cast and Characters
Jonas. Boy howdy. As I told my younger sister after reading the book for the first time, “I didn’t know how much I loved Jonas until the book was over! WHAT HAPPENED?!” But I shouldn’t go on, cuz spoilers. Jonas is a great character because he’s so innocent but smart. In the book, he’s twelve. In the movie, he’s eighteen. (More on that later.) The age difference had no impact on Jonas – he’s still the same wide-eyed, adventurous youth he was in the book. At the beginning of the movie, Jonas is excited about his prospects of becoming the new Receiver and meeting The Giver. But when he starts getting the bad, not-so-happy memories, he’s hesitant and, for the first time since the beginning of his training, scared. But he comes back the next day for more memories, which is one of the things I love about Jonas – his perseverance. Even in the face of great danger, he keeps going.
Brenton Thwaites. *engaging fangirl mode* Wow, this guy was awesome. When my siblings and I saw Maleficent, we kept our eyes peeled (figuratively) for Brenton, who played Prince Phillip. At the end of the movie, my sister and I looked at each other and grinned, both knowing that he’d be perfect as Jonas. That’s an understatement. He’s twenty-five in real life, but he pulled off an eighteen-year-old like nobody’s business. The child-like wonder when Jonas first discovered snow was one of my favorite parts. Brenton made Jonas seem innocent, but not stupid. As I was reading the book again the other day, I got to the part when Jonas received his first memory about killing and death and then the time when he found out what Release meant. I stopped reading, looked up, and said to nobody in particular, “Boy, I hope he does a good job at that part….” HE. DID. It was phenomenal. Oscar-winning performance, if I ever saw one. Especially the war memory. Men being gunned down all around him… *sniff* After receiving the memory, he woke up crying as he crawled across the floor, trying to get away, and I was crying and my siblings were crying and my cousin was crying and pretty much half of the people in the theater were crying. It was awful/awesome. I think one of my favorite parts was when Jonas was playing peek-a-boo with Gabe, the baby. So. Funny. He also had an awesome five-second memory where he was holding a newborn baby and a tear ran down his cheek. (Yeah, I cried there, too.) And I loved his line when he saw a baby grand piano for the first time. The lid was up and he asked The Giver, “Is that a table? All the food would fall to the floor…” 😀 SPOILERS And in the end, he was so protective of Gabe, it was So. Sweet. Oh, and in the middle, when Jonas told Gabe, “I love you.” GAH, so many tears. Feels, guys. END SPOILERS (Yes, I realize that this was a long paragraph. He’s a great actor!!!)
The Giver was awesome. A perfect blend of mystery and wisdom. He taught Jonas so much about feelings and memories and the world before so much was taken away from people. He was also the first person to tell Jonas that he loved him, which was a super-sweet moment. He didn’t know everything about everything, which was neat, and he was the perfect father figure to Jonas. He also had an interesting sense of humor. (“Closer… closer… closer…” *drags chair closer*) Aaaaand… that’s about it. Jeff Bridges was great as The Giver (and I love him because, without him, we wouldn’t have the movie, soooo… *applauds*), and the only thing I didn’t like about him was the fact that he seemed kinda like a grumpy old man at the beginning. Blunt and not really caring. But, towards the middle, he softens and lets his genuine feelings for Jonas come out.
Meryl Streep was great as the Chief Elder. I liked the fact that you actually got to see the Elders in action and where Jonas’ mom worked. A lot of people don’t like the fact that the Chief Elder was seemingly put into the movie for there to be an antagonist besides just “The Elders.” But I liked it – it made his opposition more visual and personal. And Mrs. Streep seemed like the perfect antagonist – slightly creepy, caring about her people (especially Jonas), and wanting the best for them, even if that meant chasing Jonas down and taking out people who would hurt their community.
Fiona. Ahh, one of the biggest controversies. A lot of the hate is directed at Fiona and the romance that develops between Jonas and Fiona, and I think this is wrong. She’s a great character! She’s kind and smart and likeable and really feels for Jonas (but not too deeply) and is willing to do a lot for Jonas. And she’s honestly got the best wardrobe in the entire movie. I love that blue dress! I really liked Odeya Rush’s portrayal of Fiona because, like Brenton, she made Fiona smart and naïve, but not too naïve. More than that, she made the romance between Jonas and Fiona (hereafter referred to as Fionas) completely believable. And, for that, I applaud her.
I liked Jonas’ family, too – Mother was stern without being too harsh (“Precision of language!” was one of her main lines), and Father was sweet and caring without being too effeminate. (Speaking of, did you guys ever think about the fact that Mother was on the council of elders, and Father was a nurturer? Just a thought…) Jonas’ little sister, Lily, was really adorable, too. Especially when Jonas was teaching her how to dance (adorbs!) and when she smugly told her parents, “And it’s not a hippo – it’s an elephant” after she heard Jonas telling Gabe the truth about his comfort object.
Another minor character that I liked was Asher, Jonas’ friend. He was played by Cameron Monaghan – who we kept saying looked a lot like Will Poulter – and I think he did a great job demonstrating the change that Asher is trying to make. He’s trying to grow up and act mature, but he’s also still good friends with Jonas and Fiona and doesn’t want to lose that. I also really liked his role in the end, which is spoilery, so I won’t say what it is. (Also, I just found out that he was Winthrop Paroo in my favorite version of The Music Man. Look at how cute he is!)
An honorable mention goes to Taylor Swift for playing Rosemary. She was great, which was surprising, especially after so many people said that she wouldn’t be good. She only had a few lines and was in flashback and holographic scenes, and I liked her.
None, really. The book has been banned (or at least attempted) several times because of the euthanasia of unwanted babies and elderly people – calling it Release to Elsewhere – but, honestly, that’s what’s happening now in our society. Abortion is prevalent, but nobody talks about it. I think a movie that tries to talk about it – and is firmly against it – should be raised up, not banned. The movie does have two Release scenes, but they’re done well and not graphic at all. Also, they’re portrayed in a very negative light. There’s no language, and the only by way of the romance are a few kisses.
Confronting The Haters
(This could also be called Other Objectionable Content. Har-har.)
As always, with screen adaptions, some things are left by the wayside – they don’t make the screen and are only in the book. For serious fans of any book, this is sometimes inexcusable. (“How on earth could they take out Tommy Muller from the movie version of The Book Thief?! He’s essential to the plot! And what about Ramandu? And don’t even get me started on Tom Bombadil!”) I know that all filmmakers, when they want to adapt a book for the silver screen, are faced with this problem. How much should they leave in and take out? What are the aspects of the plot that have to be kept in? For The Giver, the main parts of the plot that couldn’t be excluded were The Giver, Jonas, Gabe, the utopian society, Release to Elsewhere, memories, colors (and lack thereof), the lack of love, and the sled. Without these, The Giver simply wouldn’t be The Giver. And I think that, in order to demonstrate more fully the contrast of a society that didn’t have love versus a society that didn’t have love, which was Jonas’ community, they changed Jonas’ age. You see, a twelve-year-old can only love so deeply. An eighteen-year-old, on the other hand, can love even deeper. When Jonas asked his parents if they loved him, they told him to use a different word because “the word love is so antiquated, it’s not even in use anymore.” So it made a huge impact on the audience when Jonas told Fiona, “I love you.” (It was wonderful and goose-bumpy and very nearly made me cry.)
So what I’m trying to say is this: The film adaptions are never exactly like the book. (This is why I hold the belief that the book is, nine times out of ten, better than the movie. Often, writers are to portray things better than the filmmakers. Sometimes, though, there’s a gem of a movie that fills in all the cracks in a book and makes it even more beautiful than the book.) I believe that this is why many fans of The Giver will be disappointed if they go into the theater expecting the movie to be exactly like the book. (It’s not. It’s very similar, but some parts are left out or changed.) I’d encourage you to keep an open mind and know this: Even after you go see the movie, no matter your opinion, you can always go back and read the book again. The parts you missed and felt miffed about because they were changed or were taken out of the movie entirely will still be there. So, yes, the book was awesome, but that doesn’t make the movie any less good.
Seriously, this was one of the most pro-life and, at times, painfully honest movies I’ve seen in a long time. In my ‘umble opinion, I think it was nearly as good as the book. From the little things like the announcements (“Announcement: Citizens are reminded to not touch anyone except those in their family unit.” HINT, HINT) to the colors (flashes at the beginning, then gradually coming in, then changing back to black-and-white when Jonas wasn’t in the community) to the memories (having Jonas in the memories was perfection) to the lack of feelings (“I accept your apology.”).
I know I’m probably in the minority here, but… I think the movie got everything right. They even directly quoted the book sometimes – purists will be happy to know that they kept the oft-quoted “back and back and back” line. Also, it was narrated by Jonas. How cool is that?! One of my favorite lines, though, was what The Giver said to the Chief Elder at the end of the film, “Faith is seeing beyond.” Yeps. Oh, and it’ll totally make you cry. When the credits started rolling, I took my lone tissue out of my purse and ripped it up into five pieces – one for each of my group. It made us laugh… kinda… but didn’t help with the feels.
Bottom line: Ignore the naysayers and go see it with an open mind. It’s not exactly like the book, but it embodies the spirit of it.