The Giver fails because it doesn’t try to be anything extraordinary, happy to settle for a simple retelling that doesn’t show us anything that goes beyond satisfactory. It is a classic example of a missed opportunity, and with such rich, innovative and heartfelt source material, it’s all the more lackluster. The film simply put the words to screen and bypasses breathing any type of life into its world.
From the start my expectations for this film were high – this was a book I cherished growing up. It was the book that showed me other ways of storytelling, ones that were bleaker but also allowed for subtlety. For a 7th grader, it’s hard to wrap your head around a book teachers are forcing upon you, so for one to have such a great impact on me was exciting. I loved this book, and when I was 13 and re-reading it I would cast who I thought would be great in the roles, not being able to wait for the day when I could see this ordinary but curious world shine onscreen.
Imagine my disappointment in seeing something so lifeless.
Before you assume that my annoyance with the film is solely based on bias, let me assure you that there are plenty of missteps that range from inconsistent pacing, to listless young performers, to unnecessary monologues that beat you over the head with the meaning of the story, to an oddly futuristic setting. Sure the script is weak – but the adaptation of the book from Lois Lowry’s pages to the script of the film is hardly the leading offense.
The story focuses on Jonas, a 16-year-old who’s about to hit a milestone in his life by being assigned his job title. He lives in a community that has no misfortune, no violence, no hatred or prejudice. However, there’s also no warmth, no sincerity, no love and no happiness. People exist – they live and they breathe and they go on with their lives but they are barred from experiencing life. However, once Jonas is assigned the role of The Giver, his life changes. The Giver is the keeper of history and memory and the one who aids in council meetings on matters the board wouldn’t understand, due to this being the only life they’ve ever known. It’s through the Giver that Jonas learns what’s being kept from them, what was stolen from them, and he must make a daring choice on how best to save his community’s people.
That’s a lot of interesting plot right there – there is so much to work with, and despite the fact the movie manages to include almost every big moment of the book, it seems as if it rushes them all by. The film is a checklist of sorts with little elaboration or passion for the project, which is surprising considering Jeff Bridges has been fighting to make this film for over 18 years.
Bridges, at the very least, seems to be putting his all into the role. The lead, Brenton Thwaites, who has already shown promise in the past year’s The Signal and Oculus,is perfectly serviceable as Jonas but lacks any sort of popping screen presence. Odeya Rush as his love interest still seems as if she’s finding her footing as an actress, but she has a spark that a few more good roles could help hone. Actors such as Meryl Streep and Katie Holmes are given so little to do that it’s hard to judge their performances as a whole.
There a few scenes that work beautifully, which is why it’s such a shame to see the rest of the film crumble and crack around it. Moments such as Jonas sledding for the first time are orchestrated so that we feel the childlike anticipation; we see the crispness of the snow and feel the crunch of it beneath our boots and the dampness on our gloves. We know what it feels like to walk in the snow, so to be able to understand the newness of it from Jonas’ perspective is an accomplishment. From the way it’s shot to the way it’s performed it’s wonderful, but it’s a rare good scene in an otherwise dull film. For the most part any scene that shows Jonas experiencing something new is a positive aspect, and the last ten minutes of the film seem like a different one altogether, showing that it could have been something great.
This film isn’t bad for what it is – a Young Adult adaptation – but disappointing because it wasn’t given the time and thought it deserved. I truly, truly believe that Young Adult book-to-film adaptations are integral for young people. They need to see representations of themselves even if they’re put into over-the-top scenarios that suspend disbelief, because in the end, the messages themselves are apparent and touch on young people’s struggles. Uniformity, originality, bravery, love, perseverance and hope: all themes are touched upon in this film and all are important lessons. What I don’t like is how in the pursuit of money, studios are simply turning out mediocre films because they know people will still flock to see them. The story, the pieces – everything is there to make a good film, it’s just lacking in execution.
This film isn’t bad; it just doesn’t try to be anything great.
The Giver is out now.