Directed by Phillip Noyce
Starring Jeff Bridges, Brenton Thwaites, Odeya Rush, Meryl Streep and Alexander Skarsgård
Like so many elementary school children, I read The Giver for the first time in fifth grade. In 11th grade, I picked up the book again, but I found myself reading through a much more intricate book than I had remembered. Its concise yet terrifyingly vivid portrait of a dystopian community left me wrestling with complex questions about society and modern culture.
Written by Lois Lowry in 1993, The Giver follows Jonas, a 12-year-old boy who lives in a seemingly utopian community that controls the emotions and actions of its citizens. At the annual Ceremony of Twelve, Jonas is assigned the onerous task of bearing the memories of the past, and he soon realizes startling truths about his community and why it was formed.
Unlike the book, the film adaptation of The Giver does little to inspire any philosophical ponderings. As much as I desperately wanted to fall in love with the movie, the sad truth is that The Giver is little more than a copy of other dystopian movies like The Hunger Games or Divergent. By trying to drive the story with a new action-filled plot, the film misses the larger emotional story of love and memory that Lowry’s book so beautifully wove.
I was, however, able to gain more insight about the film at a roundtable interview with Lois Lowry, Brenton Thwaites (Jonas), and Odeya Rush (Jonas’ friend, Fiona). When asked about the difficulties of playing a character who wasn’t supposed to have emotion, Rush responded: “We did have to do takes on certain scenes. In one, my character said, ‘I’m scared.’ For some takes, Phil [Noyce, the director] said, ‘Look horrified.’ But then I also did some takes where I said, “I’m scared,” kind of knowing what scared is, and kind of being a little bit frightened.”
While Jonas and Fiona are 12 in the book, they are aged to look like teenagers in the movie. Thanks to certain plot adjustments, the film teeters close to being another teenage romance, but Thwaites did insist that the age difference was acknowledged during filming.
“I can’t change the way I look,” the 25-year-old Thwaites explained. “I am who I am. It’s more of a character study and an obligation to the character. In this film, it was important to capture the innocence of Jonas. Philip, the director, told me at the start: ‘Don’t play young.’ He just wanted me to bring as much of the character as possible.”
Despite the discrepancies between the book and the film, the author of the Newbery Medal-winning novel said that she was indeed present at multiple stages of the film’s production.
“From the beginning, they always sought my advice on things,” she said. “Now, they didn’t always take my advice, but it’s unusual for an author even to be asked. I wasn’t there when they filmed the early scenes with Jeff [Bridges] and Brenton, but when I was there, they let me go to the editing room, and the editor had showed me the scene where Jeff and Brenton came together for the first time. I murmured to myself, ‘I hate that line,’ about one line spoken by Jeff, and the next time I saw the scene, the line had been taken out! The editor went and told the director, ‘She hates that line,’ and they took it out. It was a scene where Jeff used a terrible phrase, ‘swirling vortex.’ He said to Brenton, ‘You’ll enter a swirling vortex,’ and I just thought, ‘Swirling vortex?’ They’ve been very good at including me in the entire process, which they were not obligated in any way to do.”
A surprising element of the film is its incorporation of technological devices. From holograms to automatic-wrist-injection machines, futuristic features clash with the simple utopia that Jonas’ community strives to be in both the film and the novel. Perhaps I only think this way because when I first read the book, cellphones barely existed, so I never envisioned that the set would look so futuristic. When Lowry wrote the book in 1993, the Internet was just entering the public consciousness, and I can’t imagine that she saw Jonas in a community so laden with technology.
Nevertheless, there are still perks to creating the film now, one of those being Jeff Bridges, who played the role of The Giver in the movie. When asked why the book was made into a movie now and not 10 years ago, Lowry exclaimed, “Oh, I wanted to do it 10 years ago! It was 18 years ago that Jeff acquired the rights to the book and stuck with it all that time, but it never got made. He wouldn’t have been able to play the role 18 years ago; he would’ve been too young. So, it’s probably a good thing that it took so long.”
If you’ve read and loved Lowry’s book, watch the movie, if not for the nostalgia of elementary school, then for finally seeing the community and characters come to life. There are still touching moments during Jonas’ journey, and Bridges successfully embodies the harrowed, wise Giver. But if you haven’t read The Giver, spend your money on the book.