In Lois Lowry’s The Giver, we follow the story of Jonas, an introspective boy about to come into manhood . He lives in a society dedicated to peace and harmony, which has been made possible by forced conformity and regulation of every aspect of life - from the way one dresses to the suppression of emotions through daily dosages of drugs. Jonas is assigned the unique job of the Receiver of Memories and the tutelage he receives from the resident Receiver (who calls himself the Giver) opens his eyes to many new experiences and sensations, which in turn make evident the deep dark side of the “utopia” Jonas lives in.
For children growing up in the ‘90s and even today, The Giver by Lois Lowry was probably a seminal book. It was the forerunner of the dystopian young adult fiction that is popular today: Hunger Games, Divergent and others. It is also a truly disturbing book, free from the sugary trappings of much teen/young adult fiction today (i.e. love triangles, whiny self-pitying confessional narratives, misunderstood bad boys that are actually good.) Despite lacking these trappings, The Giver was and is still a popular book because it taught valuable lessons about appreciating differences in people and holding fast to your individuality.
The funny thing is, despite the title of this review, all of the disturbing content from the book is still in this movie. In fact, if you were looking for a fairly faithful adaptation of the book, this movie is it. However, no one can deny that this movie version has fallen victim to the overwhelming urge to appeal to the coveted teen audience. We see a hunky male lead in Brenton Thwaites as Jonas, a comely young female lead in Odeya Rush, whose character played a lesser role in the book than she does here, hints of a love triangle with their friend Asher (Cameron Monaghan). To give the film a more serious air, you see people like Academy Award winners Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges in conventionally dramatic dourness. Yet the movie still feels too slick, too geared towards giving its audience a digestible adaptation of a dark and challenging work, which it does not just with the changes mentioned above but serious changes in the plot that change the stakes of the narrative and not in a good way.
The film does manage to conjure up some truly chilling scenes, especially when it comes to the “releases” and the performances are solid, if not stellar. Still, The Giver deserved a bolder and darker adaptation than this one.