[What's Next?] Movie Time
Written by
Cait Levin
September 2014
Written by
Cait Levin
September 2014

Hi everyone. I know I’ve written about movie adaptations before, but I saw The Giver last weekend, and we need to talk about it.

I don’t know about you, but I had to read that book in the sixth grade, like roughly 90% of sixth graders across the country. We still do this, in fact. The Giver is an excellent book, and I’ve said before and I’ll say it again – if you want to see where the dystopian movement started, pick up The Giver again. If you loved the book you should also know that there’s a whole series (four books total) by Lois Lowry that takes place in the same universe. Check it out.

Anyway, don’t get me wrong. I love Meryl Streep. I mean, did you see The Iron Lady? Forgive her for Mamma Mia. Actually, the cast was pretty star-studded, which isn’t surprising considering how much of a Big Deal it was that they made this book into a movie. Streep played the chief elder. I was surprised when I read that initially, and you might be, as well. Why? Because the chief elder appears for about two seconds (read: pages) in the book. She’s at the beginning, during the big yearly ceremony where people are aged up and phased out if necessary. And that’s it.

In the movie Meryl was all over, a near-constant presence overseeing the community, and a huge source of conflict for the heroes of the story. I didn’t hate that, because I love Meryl Streep and it was sort of emphasizing what was understated in Lowry’s novel. Just as The Hunger Games widened our focus from Katniss to the world at large, The Giver movie widened our perspective from Jonas to the whole community, and even hinted at communities beyond his, and the world beyond these controlled communities.

There were moments from the book that were cut and other things exaggerated to make a movie of what is considered to be watchable: the beautiful descriptions from Lowry during the transferring of memory were abbreviated to quick snips of images, the children were all aged up to teenagers, allowing a love story to be a major plot point. The older protagonist bothered me a lot, actually. Part of what was so interesting about Jonas was the innocence he had, the innocence of a child.

The biggest issue I had was with the last ten minutes. First, after Jonas leaves the community we spend only a little bit of time with him. The focus shifted back to the community and there was a lot of what I consider to be speculation about the immediate consequences of his leaving. Spoiler alert: it’s not good for Fiona, or The Giver. Oh and I forgot: Asher becomes a droid pilot (instead of Person In Charge of Fun, like in the book), and is instructed to hunt and kill Jonas in the dessert. It was a bit of a free for all.

And finally, the ending. The ending of The Giver is the one thing that most adults remember very distinctly, because no one really understood it (if you meet someone who says they understood that ending when they were twelve, they’re lying). Even today I’ve heard grown men and women debate what the ending means: He gets to safety, he’s dreaming, he’s thinking about a transferred memory and we have no idea what his status is, he’s dying and this is a last hallucination, he’s already dead and this is heaven, and so on and so forth. Spoiler again: In one of the other books in the series Lowry mentions adult Jonas. So. He lives! Sorry, everyone who thought otherwise. Anyway, in the movie, live Jonas passes the barrier, returns the memories to the people (a plan he made with The Giver before leaving, unlike the book), and then stumbles up to a cozy house with his baby brother safe and sound. Pretty neat. By which I mean tidy. Hmm.

So here we are again with some essential questions. Do I appreciate that the movie may have breathed some new life into the story? Sure I do. Do I like the alterations to the ending? Not at all. I feel pretty strongly about that. I checked out the film credits and noticed that Lois Lowry is not credited as a writer on the film (only as the writer of the book), and in my opinion, that has something to do with it. What do you all think? Did you see the movie? Did you, unlike me, prefer it to the book? Let me know in the comments below!

Cait Levin is the Community Manager at She Writes. You can read more of her blog (when she stops watching so much Dawson’s Creek and actually writes more of a blog) here.

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  • Candace Davis

    Great analysis Cait.

    I was really interested in reading your article because I'm Australian and we don't actually have to read The Giver in school (at all).

    Incidentally, I'm a teacher and a previous student actually told me about the book only last week. Intrigued by the idea of it being one of the first modern dystopian novels I hunted it down and read it straight away.

    It's a fantastic book and I thoroughly enjoyed the open ending (I think I appreciate them more as I age, and read more tidy or unpleasant endings).

    I've been contemplating watching the movie and now I'm not sure if I'd like to. It's strange like that. If I am quite happy with a book, I'm unsure about seeing someone else's interpretation of it on the big screen.

    If anything, the film will be a useful teaching tool to complement the book (at least in the US)!