Lois Lowry’s 1993 award-winning YA novel is a dystopian story which, like all scarily plausible dystopias with vitally important messages, appears on lists of banned books. I couldn’t find any references to the film adaptation being banned but then I think times have moved on somewhat, with the book now considered a classic.
The film is faithful to the basic plot of the book. It’s set in a community where people are bred to be genetically similar and are medicated to dampen their emotions. Everyone has their right place and is assigned a suitable job. A boy, Jonas, is chosen to be the Receiver of Memory. Trained by an elderly man, the Giver, it’s Jonas’ fate to be weighed down with the burden of history so that everyone else may live in harmony. But will he accept his fate and the pain that accompanies it? Or will he try to escape into the unknown?
There are a number of changes made, however, which were presumably to mould the film into something more conventional. For example, the significantly expanded – and rebellious – roles given to Fiona and Asher (Jonas’ best friends) made the characters more valuable but also seemed clichéd. There is more technology in evidence, such as drones and holograms, to make this vision of the future believable. The book’s original ending is kept but the story is expanded around it so that we see what others in the community are doing, with more explanations and everything tied up in a conveniently positive way.
In the book, descriptions of colour are carefully avoided, as colour vision has been edited out of the genes. Except for Jonas, who occasionally sees flashes of colour. This is strikingly reflected in the film, which begins in monochrome, developing a muted palette as Jonas starts his training and finally becoming vibrant.
I thought it was a nice touch that the Giver has a grand piano in his house (although how would he get it tuned when no one else is allowed to know that music exists?) and the montages of different cultures which represented the transfer of memories were excellent. The painful memories were toned down, which I think was probably necessary to avoid a higher age rating. It was interesting to consider that Jonas and his friends are 12 in the book, about 16 in the film and the rating is 12. I liked Jeff Bridges as the Giver and Brenton Thwaites as Jonas. Meryl Streep is the Chief Elder but I didn’t feel that her character was really necessary.
It’s a good adaptation, worth watching at least once, but it’s not as powerful as the book.
Low-resolution image sourced from Wikipedia.