The Giver Movie Gives Me Sadness

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I am a reader. I love to read, and I’m not afraid to say it! I get teased for reading on my Kindle all the time, and some of my colleagues have begun calling it “kindling.” I don’t know why reading is so crazy! Reading is the BEST!

Escaping into a brand new fantastical story, a world I couldn’t have invented that comes alive on the page, new people to meet, places to discover, and things to see.

I know a bunch of other people who are also readers, and one thing we have ALL said at one time or another is: “The book was better! I can’t believe they left out/changed so-and-so in the movie!”

Some books translate really well into movies. A good example of this is White Oleander, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Harry Potter, and the Hunger Games series. I mean, sure, they left out a good chunk of narrative, but all the important parts were included, it was a fun movie, and the main characters stayed pretty true in the transition. All in all, good adaptations that left out some things, but stayed fairly true to the original story.

Then we have The Giver.

I first read Lois Lowry’s The Giver as a kid, then again in middle or high school for required reading, and reread the whole quartet (FYI, there are 4 books in The Giver’s series: The Giver, Gathering Blue, Messenger, and Son) a couple of years ago as an adult.

The thing that resonates with me in Lois Lowry’s coming-of-age saga is that the main character, Jonas, is only 12 and is starting to realize that what he has always known and believed is not how the world really is.

It’s not a true dystopian future story, where something terrible has wiped out most of society, and suddenly there is a controlling government and factions of dissenters. It’s not a love story, and it is not really an action story, though the book does have some action and there was some sort of not-really-explained “ruin” full of war and violence that led to The Community.

I read an article recently that referred to The Giver as a fable, and it’s really a great analogy. The Giver is the story of a possible future reality, in which none of us feel real emotions. We don’t have terrible anger, senseless rage, jealousy, or even love. Those feelings are simply repressed. There are no rebels trying to change the world, people are pretty content and seem happy — as happy as one can be without knowing the feeling of true happiness.

The Giver is a book that makes you think. The people in the community do not have the freedom to choose, not who they marry, or to even have their own kids. But no one really seems bothered about this inability to make their own decisions. Jonas starts having a few emotions, and then becomes the new Receiver of Memory — his career, as assigned to him at age 12 in a big ceremony.

When he begins receiving memories from the previous Receiver, Jonas experiences real emotions, sees colors for the first time, and even experiences negative emotions like hunger and suffering — two more things he has never known.

Let’s try this again: Jonas is 12. These people have no real negative emotions, not about their lives, the rules, each other, or the controlled community in which they live. They do not “love,” since they cannot feel it. They can feel affection and contentment, but the all-out teenage-angst love-infatuation of typical teenage movies is not something you see in this novel.

In the movie, Jonas is suddenly 16. They give him a love story with his friend Fiona, and completely change his relationship with his best friend Asher, creating conflict and changing Asher’s personality. They even change the relationship with Gabriel! They forced The Giver to become another standard Divergent/Twilight/Hunger Games young adult action movie that have become so popular.

The problem isn’t that they moved away from or changed some things from the book, the problem (to me) is that they fundamentally changed major pieces of the story.

In the book, while he does have a couple of friends, Asher and Fiona, they are not a large part of the story, really. He really doesn’t have that much interaction with Fiona, outside of volunteering together, and Asher is his best friend and a serious kid, and not a drone pilot. The book is about Jonas learning what used to be, before “the community” existed, before all earlier memories were erased, before there was no such thing as different races, and no emotions.

The book is a thought-provoking look at what some people may still believe could be a Utopian society, with no war, no choices, no rough or deep emotions, and the coming-of-age story of a 12 year old boy, learning nothing is what it seems (people being “released” and such) and what exists Elsewhere, and from long before the Community.

The movie is a now-standard action movie, a young adult dystopian future story of intrigue, fighting for change, and suddenly a 16 year old main character. In the book, the ending is meant to be ambiguous (though you find out what happened in later books in the series), and in the movie it is, of course, more definitive.

I could not be more disappointed in the movie version of a beloved and interesting novel.

What are your thoughts on movies being made from favorite childhood books? Do you have any examples of great adaptations or really bad ones?

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Entrepreneur, writer, editor, book coach, cat lover, weirdo, optimist. Author of “Write. Get Paid. Repeat.” & “Concept to Conclusion.”

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