by Tyler Hersko
Louis Lowry’s novel “The Giver” been challenged and outright banned as frequently as it has appeared on schools’ required reading lists.
It has received critical ac- claim and won a number of awards, and has conversely been decried for various logical fallacies and implausibility. Despite this, the young-adult novel has stood the test of time; its literary impact is still felt 21 years after its initial release.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the recently released film adaption of “The Giver” has similarly polarized audiences. Adapting a story rife with internal conflicts but scant action for the big screen is bound to result in a few hiccups. “The Giver” has more than its fair share of noticeable flaws, however, enough of the original source material shines through, albeit with a noticeable set of creative liberties, to make for an occasionally enjoyable, if not unremarkable, film adaption.
“The Giver” is set in a seemingly utopian society without real conflict or sadness. The society’s blissfully ignorant citizens are assigned families,
jobs and are allowed no privacy. “The Giver” protagonist Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) is selected to work as the Receiver of Memories, which causes him to uncover the horrible truth about what his society had to sacrifice in the name of equality and peace.
If this sounds like just about every other dystopian story ever, well, that’s because it technically is. Lowry’s novel wasn’t the first of its kind, but it was one of the first to be so widely read and understood by young adult readers. Regard- less, “The Giver” suffers heavily, as do most other film adaptions of novels, in pacing and lack of depth.
The first nine chapters of the novel — and this is a short book, mind you — are glossed over in mere minutes. The novel’s vivid descriptions of Jonas’ community and its rigid customs made their eventual deconstruction all the more powerful.
In the film’s opening, voiced exposition and text immediately ruin the plot’s big twist, while fleeting and flat descriptions of the society only emotionally deaden the viewer. This is a serious problem, given that both the film and novel rely entirely on establishing an emotional connection and raising questions about ethics and morality.
If you can get past that, the film picks itself up and delivers a decently engaging story, at least until its rather dissatisfying conclusion.
Although several creative liberties are taken with the plot with varying degrees of success, the film’s acting and cinematography, especially the partial use of black-and-white filming are solid throughout. Jonas’ transition from a care- free, ignorant civilian to an informed but heavily burdened mind is handled with care, while the community at large is suitably robotic and compliant.
The overarching problem is scripting. While Jonas’ job and the horrible truths he uncovers lend themselves to striking visuals and admirable character progression, it never feels as emotionally engaging as such a dystopian story should. There’s never really a reason to care about the community, and while Jonas’ personal struggles are unarguably an important part of the novel and film alike, the even more important human element is lost in translation.
Some of the creative liberties serve to condense the narrative. Given that a film has less time to tell a story, these changes work quite well, and it would be nice to see other film adaptions modify their own stories while
remaining similarly faithful to the source material.
The bigger problem resides in the film’s heavily-modified climax and conclusion. The screenwriters go for an action- oriented finale and the result is a number of incredulous plot holes that have nothing to do with the original novel and don’t even make sense on their own.
Apparently there is a secret police. The community’s elders know about the otherwise hid- den history of the world, which begs the question of why there is a Receiver of Memory at all, which is kind of the point of the entire story. Like Lowry’s novel, “The Giver” has a somewhat ambiguous ending, but it’s just nowhere near as satisfying.
One can’t help but wonder if the screenwriters discarded the climax’s derivate action and bumbling dialogue, maybe there would have been enough room to fully include the elements of the original story that garnered it such praise. Novels have been butchered worse on the big screen, but this is one for the diehards only.
Tyler Hersko can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.