Review: 'The Giver' book vs. movie

By Fred Hawson

Posted at Sep 05 2014 07:12 PM | Updated as of Sep 06 2014 03:12 AM

It was only a year ago that I had read the book by Lois Lowry, which was written a little more than twenty years ago. With the popularity of dystopian movies made from young adult novels like "Hunger Games" and "Divergent", it is only now that "The Giver" was also made into a film.

I read this book because it was the required reading of my son in sixth grade and I would like to also read what my kids are made to read. While I felt that this book was too mature for my son's grade level, I found it very interesting as it presents the reader a utopian society in the future -- a society of artificially-engineered peace and strict rules -- no memory, no grey areas, no emotions.

In that world, when a kid reaches 12 years old, they are assigned the occupation which they will be performing for the rest of their lives. For Jonas though, because of his ability to "see beyond", he was specially chosen to be the Recipient of Memories. As his job title indicated, he will be receiving the memories (which had been denied the rest of the populace) from the previous Recipient of Memories, henceforth now called The Giver.

While the movie sticks pretty much to the story of the book, there were some significant changes. In the film, the age of assignment was upped from 12 in the book to a more mature 18. This of course conveniently gave leeway for a possible love angle among the characters which did not happen in the book. However, this also made his decisions and actions more reasonable than it felt while reading the book.

The other significant change involved the ending. The book had a very vague sudden ending in which it was not even clear what the fate of Jonas was. There was nothing unclear about the ending in the film. In fact, the events following the supposed ending of the book were all laid out and expanded in detail. I personally felt there was too much detail given in this regard. A little mystery could have been left open for the viewers to ponder on.

The look of the film though is outstanding. It started in stark black and white, slowly gaining in color as Jonas learned more about what real life was all about. The futuristic set -- the island nestled in the clouds, the dwelling places, the bicycles, the nursery, the ceremonial hall, the costumes -- all looked so good and ideal as they should.

The senior cast was very impressive with Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges leading it. Streep does as only Streep can in the role of the all-knowing, all-powerful Chief Elder, who controlled everything in their utopia. Bridges is especially outstanding as he conveyed the painful responsibility and abject loneliness of being the Giver very well. His knowledge was his torture. Alexander Skarsgard effectively projected naivete in his role as Jonas' Nurturer father. Seeing Katie Holmes again is a pleasant surprise as she plays Jonas' stern mother.

Brenton Thwaites does very well in the lead role of 18 year-old Jonas, even if in reality he is already 25. He has an expressive face that effectively showed various emotions derived from the various memories he was being shown. You do get the impression though that everything happened too quickly for him, but that is the fault of the storytelling by director Philip Noyce, and not the actor himself. It would have been better if Jonas' awakening happened more subtly than the abrupt way it was shown here.

Pretty Odeya Rush is very good as Jonas' school friend Fiona. She was able to portray the confusion her character felt as Jonas' shared with her the new truths he is learning each day. Watch out for a short cameo by pop singer Taylor Swift, whom I did not immediately recognize. Her performance though was not really too remarkable.

Overall, this was a very well-made film. The cinematography is so clean and crisp, both in black and white, and in color. The musical score is appropriately haunting. That beautiful song playing over the closing credits by OneRepublic is exceptional. Entitled "Ordinary Human", I look forward to it being nominated for Best Original Song come Oscar time.

It may be perceived to be underwhelming compared to the more action-packed dystopian young adult films so popular nowadays. However, it is really unfair to compare them that way. First, you can see how "The Giver" has inspired these new generation YA books in terms of story. Furthermore, "The Giver" has a more mature and serious message to its audience -- about the very essence of human existence. 7/10

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said.