When I found out a couple months ago that The Giver was being made into a movie, I was beside myself with excitement. I’ve explained here before that The Giver is the book that turned me into an insatiable reader. It sparked my imagination in a way that stories about smelly buses and little brothers never did. Without a doubt, it is the reason that I am so drawn to dystopian stories even as an adult.
The trailer was released recently and has been receiving a fair amount of negative feedback. Comment sections everywhere blew up with, “How dare they ruin this book!?” I’m not going to lie. When I watched the trailer the first time, I thought it felt very Hunger Games and Divergent-esque. That’s not at all how I remember the book feeling.
But that’s not fair. It’s been almost 20 years since I read The Giver, surely there are things I’ve forgotten. Not to mention, I was 9 when I read it the first time. Being 29 is sure to alter the reading experience just a bit. So I re-read it last night. These are my conclusions.
Common criticism: “It’s not in black and white.”
To be fair, this was also my first thought. The scene where the apple “changes” is my most vivid memory of this book even 20 years later. Granted, it’s a 1 minute 30 second trailer for a 2 hour movie. There’s a chance they only included the color scenes. But even if the whole movie is in color, it’s okay. Jonas being able to see color in a black and white world was a device used to show the reader that Jonas was changing. And honestly, it’s a device that really only has an impact when it’s written. When the Giver revealed that the “change” Jonas was experiencing was “the color red,” the reader has a “WTF?” moment. You were DYING to know how the apple changed. It was suspenseful. It was mysterious. And when it was revealed, it blew you away and forced to you look at Jonas’s world in another way. There’s no way this scene is nearly as dramatic on screen because the viewer lives in a world that has red. It doesn’t pull the rug out from under you the way it does when you read it. I’m sure the movie has other tricks up its sleeve to reveal that Jonas is different from the others.
Common criticism: “It looks too much like The Hunger Games. It’s supposed to be a utopia, not a dystopia.”
Oh, how our child minds remember things. I, too, felt like the trailer was way too heavy for what I remembered. Upon my re-read, I realized The Giver is very dark. There was a lot lost on me the first time around. Citizens take daily pills to suppress sexual feelings. Citizens are assigned spouses and those “units” are assigned children. Professions are assigned. Birth mothers? They’re lower than than low. Citizens get “released” when they’re too old, too sick, or don’t follow the rules. Released, of course, means euthanized. If you don’t remember the scene where Jonas’s father “releases” a newborn because it was an identical twin, maybe you should read it again. Then you’ll realize that the trailer isn’t dark enough.
Common criticism: “What is <insert scene>? That’s not in the book.”
Yeah, it looks like they’re taking some liberties with the source material, and they absolutely should. There’s a reason that the trailer feels too dark for most. It’s because you’re remembering the story from the viewpoint of a 12-year-old boy who didn’t know any better. How did society get there? Who started it? Were there revolts? Does anyone question the status quo? Are the elders really “good?” What’s outside of the society? Has anyone tried to go there? There are so many things that Jonas isn’t privy to. There are so many things Jonas doesn’t even question. But the movie will. I think the movie will show the dark underbelly of “utopia,” and I’m excited for it.
Bonus reason… The Dude abides.
Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep, ya’ll. Get hype.