Directed by Phillip Noyce
Starring Brenton Thwaites, Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep
Book-to-screen adaptations are risky. There's obviously things written that are difficult to transfer from one medium to another. Some films are able to bring everything from the dialogue to the literary themes to life with no problem. Others, like The Giver, get lost in translation. While the movie is a decent addition to the dystopian, YA genre, it doesn't hold up to the very work it's based on.
Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) lives in a near-future "perfect" society where everything from color to pain to choice have been stripped from the population's lexicon. Everyone seems pretty happy without having to worry about competition or heartbreak. At an annual ceremony of ages, each age group is given tools for the next steps in each person's life. Jonas and his group, including his best friends Fiona (Odeya Rush) and Asher (Cameron Monaghan), are given their respective jobs in society, as they've now reached "adutlhood" and must begin training for their lifelong careers. Jonas is skipped over during the ceremony, led by the Chief Elder (Meryl Streep). At the the end of the ceremony it is revealed that Jonas shows traits above most others and that he has been selected for the role of the Receiver of Memories. This leads him to meeting with the former Receiver, who is now the Giver, in a remote house on the edge of the community. The Giver (Jeff Bridges) prepares Jonas for feelings and experiences he's never had before and will likely never be allowed to tell anyone about. This opens the door for discovery into the terrible world this "perfect" community has truly become.
In the book, written by Lois Lowry, Jonas and the community are carefully built into an incredible piece of work that leaves the reader with much to think about. In the film, director Phillip Noyce has stripped a lot of that away, providing a Divergent-Hunger Games thriller that becomes more love story/adventure than introspective think piece.
As a stand-alone film, there are things that work. In the realm of YA adaptations, The Giver seems a little more original than other franchises audiences have come to love. The visuals are striking and the montages that fill the second act are highly moving. But, there are more underlying similarities here, though, than what meets the eye upon first viewing. It's interesting that the most successful films based on YA fiction have to do with a seemingly perfect society being ripped apart by a young hero or heroine.
There are plenty of book details that make it into the movie. The black and white atmosphere, and its ongoing shift, are cleverly displayed. Some of the imagery Jonas endures throughout his receiving is also pretty intense. What really shakes things up is the added storylines and the obvious deviation from some of the more simple, symbolic moments in the book. Why did the filmmakers have to add in additional material to an already beloved trope about societal standards? My theory is that the studioheads who left the adaptation in limbo for almost 20 years saw a chance to tap into the Hunger Games cash cow. It's a little too late, though. I would've really liked to have seen The Giver that could've been made 10 years ago, with dark subject matter and no need for anything new or different. Maybe we'll be lucky and, in another 10 years when this fad is over, a new director comes and creates a more honest book-to-screen version.
At the very end, the one moment that made me happy, was Jonas' closing monologue and the last image we see. For fans of the book, it'll still linger as an unknown ending to a great story. The Giver is better than a lot of other films released this summer, but as a fan of the book, it doesn't add up. Thwaites is a promising leading man. Streep is always astounding. Bridges sounds like he has something in his mouth when he talks. And, Taylor Swift even pops up in a pretty small, but great turn for the musician.
Runtime: 94 minutes