Don’t Give Up on “The Giver” (Yet)

I have to remind myself of “Rabbit-Proof Fence”.

I have nothing against rabbits. “Rabbit-Proof Fence” is a 2002 movie directed by Philip Noyce. The movie is about three mixed race (Aboriginal Australian and white) girls who try to escape a camp meant to assimilate “half -caste” children into white society. It is based on a true story. It is a very good movie.

Rabbit-Proof Fence Poster
Even that bird in the background wants to cry.

Prior to “Rabbit-Proof Fence”, Noyce directed “Patriot Games“, “Clear and Present Danger” and “Sliver“, among with many other movies. After “Rabbit-Proof Fence”, he directed “The Quiet American” and “Salt“. His work is a mixed bag when it comes to critical reception. It is also dominated by action movies. “Rabbit-Proof Fence” is much different. It”s basically about a chase, but it lacks all the tropes of an action movie. It’s slow-moving with subtle music and attention to character-building.

And it is the reason I think Noyce’s upcoming screen adaptation of “The Giver” has a chance at being a good movie. Its source material is the classic Lois Lowry book of the same name. I read “The Giver” when I was in the sixth grade and it left a deep impression on me. It’s still one of my favorite books. When I was in college, I heard from a friend that a movie version was in the works. (In fact, Jeff Bridges had been trying to get the movie off the ground for 15 years.)

I said that it would make a great movie. She agreed, but added, “They’d have to do it right.”

The first trailer for “The Giver” came out a week ago. I’m not sure that Noyce and co. (including first-time screenwriter Michael Mitnick) created what fans of the book would consider “right”. The trailer was released around the time “Divergent” entered theaters and it looks like it borrowed from that story instead the other way around. One of the things that sets “The Giver” apart from “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent”, though, is that its main character, Jonas doesn’t lead a rebellion against the over-controlled society. He does do something about his situation, but not on a large scale. It doesn’t look like it will be that way in the movie. The emotionally driven story is now an action-packed thrill ride.

Do we really need “Salty Patriot Hunger Games and Present Divergent Danger”?

The other thing that bothers me about the trailer is that Jonas’s friend/crush Fiona seems to want to challenge their society along with him. It’s great that recent dystopia-themed movies have featured strong female characters, but not every girl has to be Katniss. I’m not arguing for fewer or weaker female characters in movies and books. I’m saying is that one of the major themes in the book is that Jonas is the only one of his peers who realizes that there is a world beyond their own, and this makes him incredibly lonely. Jonas is also the only one aware that there is such a thing as love. Adding a female sidekick, who will undoubtedly return his feelings, eliminates this idea and replaces it with yet another teen-rebel romance. It wouldn’t surprise me if one of the reasons the kids’ ages have been upped from 12 to 16 was to make a romantic relationship less icky to watch, at least for parents.

The Giver - IMDB
Baby Gabriel will turn out to be Jonas’s half-brother. I’d put money on it.

Of course, I could be completely wrong. A movie can’t be judged by an 86-second montage. When the “Bridge to Terabithia” movie came out, the trailer featured “Lord of the Rings”-type adventure scenes, which never appear in the book. In reality, the movie is less about special effects and more about emotions, at least from what I’ve read about it. The adventure scenes were apparently just exaggerations of the comparatively low-key fantasy games the kids played in the original story.

Then there’s the “Rabbit-Proof Fence” factor. Philip Noyce perfectly captured the innocence and strength of a teenager (the main character is 14) trapped in an institutionalized living situation. If he can do that once, it’s likely that he can do it again. If he does it successfully, whatever commercial YA trappings have been added to the story won’t matter so much. And even if it’s completely unfaithful to the book, “The Giver” could still be a good movie.

Right?

Either way, I need to let go of “The Giver” before I see the movie. I need to separate the book itself from my own memories. That’s why I’m reading it again. More on that later.

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