I’ve found that there’s a trick to seeing film adaptations of favorite books: 1 part nostalgic love, 3 parts willful ignorance. That’s how I went into the new movie adaptation of The Giver, one of my favorite books from childhood.
Anyone who chose to take on adapting The Giver for the big screen was going to have a tough road ahead of them. First of all, this book is beloved. Second, the reason it is beloved is because it is a nearly perfect gem of a book. The language is plain but beautiful, and utterly appropriate. The story is concise, but lovingly told. There are no slow parts, no boring parts, no extraneous parts. Every detail included is necessary, and every necessary detail is included.
That being said, let me get something out there right now–the movie is not the book. In fact, it departs significantly from the book. In the movie Jonas is far more angsty than he is in the book. Romance plays a more significant role. The secondary characters in the movie do things they never would have even considered in the book. Asher has a completely different assignment. The Chief Elder (Meryl Streep) is a more overtly menacing character, very “big brother”, which I never found to be the case when I read the book. And the biggest hurdle of all; let’s face it, these actors are nowhere near age 12.
If you go into the movie hoping for a direct page-to-screen translation of the book you will be disappointed. There’s no getting around it. If you’re a purist, avoid the movie altogether.
However, if you go in as I mentioned above, with 1 part nostalgic love for the story, and 3 parts willful ignorance, you will find this movie very enjoyable. By “willful ignorance” I mean let go of your attachment to the details. When you first read the book you had no expectations. You were probably somewhere between the ages of 9-15. Try to experience this movie as you first experienced the book–as a child on the cusp of abstract and moral philosophical thinking.
Do I think the movie is brilliant? No. But the story is solid, the themes are thought-provoking, the art direction and cinematography are stunning, and the acting is (with one or two exceptions, admittedly) well-done. Most importantly, the “translation” from book to screen is loving and reverent. It’s clear that (director) Phillip Noyce, and (writers) Michael Mitnick & Robert B. Weide wanted to do justice to the original story. A boring movie would not have done justice to the book that has served as a quickening of the super-ego for so many of us; but a boring movie is, I fear, exactly what we may have gotten out of a direct page-to-screen translation.
You may not agree with me. I believe a movie based on a book should be a translation, not a direct transfer. I like to see the producer or director’s fingerprints in the end result. I am, after all, the person whose least favorite of all the Harry Potter movies is the first, because it’s too much like the book, as if the story went straight from J.K. Rowling’s head onto the celluloid. If I wanted the book in its pure form I would read the book. The Giver movie gives me the translation–the fingerprints–I like so much.
If you don’t take my word for the quality of The Giver movie, maybe you’ll take the word of my 9 year old daughter, who saw the movie with me and who is a passionate fan of the book. She said, “I actually liked it! I didn’t think I would, I was afraid it would be bad. But I really liked it! I liked the story, and when Jonas started seeing color I felt like I was seeing color for the first time too. I think we should own this one.”
From the mouths of babes.