Reviews: The Giver
I first read The Giver when I was 12. Like many other schoolchildren, it was assigned to read in English class. I was both fascinated and terrified by the concept at that age, and I would visualize what this Community might look like and ultimately, how empty it would be to live there. With my renewed interest in dystopian fiction, I thought it best to reread the book to refresh my memory, and to prepare to read the other books in The Giver Quartet, which I’ve been wanting to do for years. I knew that rereading it now, as an adult, would be a different experience. There are a few things that struck me this time. The nature of the Community is revealed in installments, I would say three. These installments come as Jonas learns more about how it operates. As a child, the Community is all good. You’re fed, have a family, have friends, ceremonies to anticipate, skills to develop. Life is more exciting. After Jonas begins to learn what emotions feel like, and everything in life there is to experience, the Community seems progressively worse. The implications of living as an adult in this world come to light: a dull, monotonous, repetitive life. Now that Jonas knows emotions, he starts to see the lack of feelings in his friends, now that he’s no longer equal to them. Lastly, the final revelation comes in the truth about release. It makes the Community much more sinister—a society that demands obedience, conformity, and superficiality. They never worry about hunger, pain, or sorrow—but only if they’re deemed worthy. I continue to find the premise for the book very compelling. In my early days of reading and enjoying it, I would mull over the idea that by stripping away all the negative emotions, it means removing the positive ones too. Life is meant to be a mixture of positives and negatives, and we are built for a range of emotions. As much as we might not like negative emotions, the Community is a far more sobering prospect. My reread is also where more criticisms of the book surfaced. The number one would have to be the transfer of memories. This is never adequately explained, and it sounds more magical than realistic. Transferring memories is so powerful it can cause literal change in a body: Jonas made Gabe’s body warm by transferring memories of heat. I never understood this as a kid, but it makes even less sense now. Aspects of Community set-up are incongruous. Why doesn’t the Community have sunshine, which is pretty essential to human health (what, are they covered by a giant dome?), but they *do* have access to a river, where they can easily drown—and have! There are other examples, but those are what come to mind. The Giver serves as a good introduction to children or anyone who wants to try the dystopian genre, but I would not count it as an outstanding work of literature. The premise motivates me to think, but the application requires much suspension of disbelief. Perhaps too much.
For the film: not the worst adaptation, but...
After I read the book as a teenager, what left the strongest impression on me was the fact that NOTHING is revealed about how the process of transferring the memories works. Is it magic? Is it science? We don't know — it's never explained. So, for me, one line, if nothing else, made seeing this movie worth it: when Jonas gets his first memory and asks in shock how that happened, the Giver scoffs at the question — it doesn't matter how it happened, "It happened." It just happens, and if the audience wants to know how, they'll have to ask Ms. Lowry, moving on... Not that there isn't some other good stuff in the film. The portrayal of life in the Community is spot on; they got all the details about their rules and lifestyle completely right. Brenton Thwaites' and Jeff Bridges' performances are excellent. The use of black-and-white versus color to portray "seeing beyond" was fun to watch. I wasn't sure whether or not they would show the "release" of the twin; when they did, I didn't expect it to disturb me nearly as much as it did. Why was watching it so much more chilling than reading it? But even though it has some good moments, I wouldn't feel comfortable calling it a "good" film. They tried to turn it from a Coming of Age Story into an epic rebel-against-the-tyrannical-government story like its imitator Divergent, but the result is kind of messy; the pieces of the plot aren't linked together very well (the narration is particularly stupid). They made the Chief Elder into a President Snow-esque villain, but the story never needed that. The plot is radically different from the book's, which die-hard fans would hate even if it was put together better. They also tried to emphasize the romance by making Fiona a more major ally, but the result looks like they hesitated between keeping to her role in the book and changing it and ultimately failed from both angles. Jonas' side of the climax works just fine, but the Giver's Kirk Summation on his side? Ridiculous! In the end, it leaves you wondering, as usual, why they thought the book would make a good movie if they thought they had to change so much to make it work... and how, if they liked the book enough to make it a movie, they couldn't see that their changes weren't as good as the original material. I enjoyed watching it, but I wasn't very impressed.