Like many, I read the Lois Lowry classic in elementary school. It wasn’t something that shaped my childhood (like Anne of Green Gables or Goosebumps) but it did stand out. The Giver was one of the first novels I remember reading that asked questions. It looked at the bigger picture. The ending was ambiguous. It made my 6th-grade-self think! Even now, I feel the urge to grab a copy every time I walk into a bookstore to see if it holds up after all this time. Sadly, I don’t think the movie does.
Our protagonist, Jonas, lives in a dystopian community where every aspect of life is regulated, medicated, and monitored for the greater good (…the greater good…). When each child comes of age they’re given a life assignment (a position within the community). While his friends happily accept their mundane positions as pilot and nurturer, Jonas is tapped for something more. He becomes the Receiver of Memories, the only member of the community privy to the emotions, history, and colours that have been stripped from their world. The Giver shows him the horrors of war, the pain of loss, and the beauty of love. He decides that the Elders are wrong and, with the help of The Giver, Jonas attempts to return these memories, both good and bad, to the community. It’s a wonderful premise, so why isn’t this a wonderful movie?
Let’s be clear. The film isn’t bad. The visuals are beautiful, the use of black and white is clever, and Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep are great as always, but there’s something missing that leaves it feeling flat. I didn’t connect in the way I should have. Maybe it was a style over substance problem, which is disappointing since all the substance was right there for the exploration.
We’re left with questions, not about the nature of love and pain, but about why the Elders implemented these things in the first place. What could have been so terrible that wiping out emotions was a logical step? How did they manage to succeed this long without a problem? What will Alexander Skarsgård do when he realizes he’s been killing babies his entire adult life? You can gloss over this in a primary school novel, but a movie marketed to an older demographic needs a little more. I wanted depth. I wanted to care! Similarly, scenes that were magical and poignant in the book (the sled, dancing) seemed awkward and a bit forced with an aged-up cast.
The thoughts were there, the talent was there, but something didn’t click. I have a feeling that The Giver is going to end up forgotten like so many young adult adaptations that have come before it. (What was that vampire one from February?) In short, I really wish The Giver gave me more.