This blog has ground to a halt over the past year or so, but I thought I’d write one last post before my indefinite hiatus. There was also a loose end in that after two posts anticipating the film version of “The Giver”, the movie was finally released. It only makes sense to tie it up.
My previous posts dealt with my reaction to “The Giver”’s trailer and my rereading of the book. I read the book when I was 12 and it had a strong effect on me. Still, I reread it so I could separate my memories of the novel from the book itself. That way I could see the movie without judging it too harshly, although my initial impression from the trailer wasn’t so good. The efforts of the 18 years it took to get the movie off the ground seemed wasted.
Ultimately, I don’t think they were. Despite my love for the original story that could never be replicated, despite the fact that not many other people liked or wanted to see “The Giver” movie, I liked it.
However, two things are necessary for die-hard fans of the book to enjoy the movie. One is distancing oneself from any childhood memories associated with the book. The other is accepting that the movie could not have been made without adjusting it to fit current trends in YA fiction film adaptations. Sure, I would have liked to see what David Fincher or Darren Aronofsky would have done with the source material, but their versions probably wouldn’t have appealed to sixth graders. It’s business, and it’s the way the world works.
Because of the movie’s more significant market-friendly changes—the 12-year olds of the novel are 16-year olds, Jonas’s affection for Fiona is requited, there are action sequences, Taylor Swift makes a cameo—I wasn’t expecting much from it. I expected Divergent, really. That’s why I was pleasantly surprised by “The Giver”. It merely pays lip service to the dystopian teen romances the book may have influenced. Jonas and Fiona kiss a few times, but their romance doesn’t dominate the story. It’s used to illustrate what’s missing from the emotionless post-Great Rift society. The action scenes are few and rather subdued by movie standards. Taylor Swift’s role as Rosemary mainly consists of playing the piano and singing, so her casting makes sense. So relax, purists: it’s not so bad.
Nitpicky movie snobs and writer types (like myself) may wince at certain parts, though. The dialogue is often heavy-handed, especially at the more emotional parts. Then there’s when Asher says that something “will blow your mind”. It sounds like a wrong note from the Giver’s piano. It also would have been nice to see Jonas look more like an actual 16-year old. At least his face has the right innocence to it. He looks like Andrew Garfield, actually.
- The visuals. This was the one thing the movie truly needed to do well, and it did. The imagery of the book was the whole reason I wanted to see it as a movie. The trailer didn’t show any scenes in black and white, which is how the citizens of the community saw the world, and that disappointed me. So I was relieved when the movie not only opened in black and white, but the colors gradually grew more saturated as Jonas saw them more clearly. Even after Jonas saw in full color, the scenes in which he didn’t appear remained black and white. The images of the memories were also brilliantly done. Some which were manic first-person shots to imitate Jonas’s point of view; others were fast-paced montages of all the things the community would never see, such as religious ceremonies, a mother with a minutes-old baby, stock footage of protests including the Tienanmen Square one, etc. These were all in brilliant color and featured mostly nonwhite people, I guess to offset the mostly white community. The look of the community is also impressive, its slick architecture contrasting nicely with the Giver’s Gothic house. The visual elements of the movie show a loving attention to detail that cannot go unnoticed.
- Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep. They do the heavy lifting when it comes to acting, and they succeed. Not that the younger actors aren’t good, but even if “The Giver” had been financially successful, I doubt it would have produced the next Jennifer Lawrence. The Chief Elder is much more prominent in the movie than in the book, most likely due to Streep’s presence. It works because she’s positioned as the steely counterpart to the intuitive, emotional Giver. For his part, Bridges’ performance is a reminder that he can do so much more than play variations of The Dude.
- The revised Asher. In the book, Asher is the goofy friend who’s destined to remain a child. In the movie, we’re told that Asher was indeed a reckless child, but he’s given a job as Pilot (as opposed to Assistant Recreational Director as he was in the book) with intent that he’d apply the same spirit that made him rebellious into his new responsibility. Asher does take his new career seriously, maybe too seriously. I liked this version of Asher because it provides an intriguing subplot. The mention of his former recklessness also implies that the 16-year old version of the character is just an extension of his literary self. Another nice touch: updating the Pilots’ helicopters to drones.
- The treatment of Rosemary. I didn’t like that the disclosure of her identity amounts to little more than a throwaway line, but then again, that part still confuses me. Anyway, I don’t know how much Taylor Swift’s casting had to do with the expansion of Rosemary’s role, but I like the result. Rosemary appears as a ghostly digital projection that the Giver replays like a home movie. The addition of her piano playing goes along with the idea of music being inaccessible to the community. It would have been very easy to turn Rosemary into a gratuitous vehicle for a pop star cameo, but here it’s pulled off gracefully.
In general, I think the strengths of “The Giver” outweigh the flaws. It really didn’t deserve the panning it received. As for the commercial failure, I would blame it on audiences getting tired of teen-dystopia movies, but I didn’t think Divergent would do well for that reason and it proved me wrong. Maybe that movie was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Maybe fans of the books were as disappointed by the trailer as I was. The movie still may live on in English classrooms. Everyone likes classroom movie days, right?
Now that’s I’ve completed “The Giver” series, it’s over and out for a while. I thank the few people who read this blog. Maybe you’ll see me again.