I recently reread The Giver and watched the movie for the first time. It’s fairly obvious that the book is infinitely better than its film adaptation, but it was, I think, worth watching.
But first, what I didn’t like.
The movie moves too quickly, speeding through explanations and experiences where the book lingers. The Community is hastily shown to us, whereas the book spends long chapters introducing us to their society, only slowly revealing how ominous their rules truly are.
The movie lacks a cohesive logic. In the book, Jonas and the Giver are the only two people capable of deep emotion. The actions and apathy of the other characters are seen as tragic and maddening, but we understand that without memories and emotions, they cannot help themselves. They are little more than robots.
In the film, however, characters act on emotion when they have no ability to do so. Lily looks sad at Gabe’s release, although in the book she happily agrees with her father that they did all they could for the child. Asher hints at jealousy when Jonas and Fiona start pairing off, and later he saves Jonas’s life out of what can only be loyalty–an emotion he ought not to have. And Fiona. Ugh, Fiona.
I loved her in the book. She (and Jonas’s father) are our most intimate windows into the tragedy of the Community. Although Jonas’s feelings for her mature and grow passionate, hers remain simple and naive. When Jonas rails against his father after learning the true meaning of “release,” he takes comfort in the fact that Fiona would never do such a thing. That is, until the Giver tells him that she is already being trained to release people. She stands in stark contrast to what we expect, allowing us to see the necessity of the memories Jonas is inheriting. She’s a good person; we like her. Yet because she does not have the empathy born of emotion, she will unwittingly do horrible things.
But in the movie, she fights alongside Jonas. After mere hours of being without her injections against the “stirrings,” she accepts a kiss and soon helps him escape. I understand that they are implying the power of love, but really? It cheapens Jonas’s journey and the importance of a shared history. If all it takes to buck the system is hormones coursing through their veins, a much simpler plan would be to get everyone to stop taking their injections for a day rather than attempting a dangerous escape. Plus, it turns the whole story into a romance, and come on. Don’t we have enough of those? I liked the plot much better when it was a boy’s love for an infant that spurred him into action rather than a pretty girl. Romantic love is an inspiration, but it is not the only emotion that encourages bravery and self-sacrifice.
And the Chief Elder! In her (admittedly brilliant) argument with the Giver at the end of the film, it seems like she has had just as much access to the memories as the Giver himself. If so, what is the point of his station? And again, this cheapens the tragedy of the book, where we see the elders deliberately avoiding any knowledge of the memories, wanting only the Giver’s advice out of context.
Whew. Okay. Apparently there were more things I disliked than I realized. HOWEVER, I stand by my earlier statement that the movie is worth watching, and for one simple reason. The memories. The first time Jonas sees full color, transported to the view of a dramatic sunset on the ocean, waves turned red in the waning light, my eyes filled with tears. The beauty was overwhelming after so much grey scale. I was moved to emotion again when the Giver transferred memories of courage to Jonas, of people parachuting, riding rapids, protesting, standing firm in front of tanks. And again at the end, when all the memories return to the people of the Community, and they see tornados, babies, concerts, lights, tears, running, praying, sunlight, death, pregnancy, and rain.
The movie is at its best when it takes on the role of Giver, filling our minds with memories and emotions, reminding us of the beauty, pain, and intensity that comes with being human.
The Giver: Do you know what that’s like? To love someone? I do. I’ve cried, felt sorrow. Love, song, dance. Felt real joy.
Chief Elder: Then you should know better than anyone. You have seen children starve. You’ve seen people stand on each other’s necks, just for the view. You know what it feels like when men blow each other up over a simple line in the sand.
The Giver: Yes, I do, I do.
Chief Elder: And yet–and yet! You and Jonas want to open that door again, bring all that back.
The Giver: If you could only see the possibility of love. With love comes faith, comes hope!
Chief Elder: Love is just passion that can turn. It turns into contempt and murder.
The Giver: We could choose better.
Chief Elder: People are weak. People are selfish. When people have the freedom to choose, they choose wrong. Every single time.
The Giver: Loss, pain, music, joy–the raw, beautiful, impossible feeling of love. We are living a life of shadows, of echoes, of faint distant whispers of what once made us real.