For some reason that I have still yet to figure out, I read several reviews of this film prior to writing my own. I got caught up with an attention grabbing headline and then continued to open the next one out of sheer curiousity. For most of the reviews I read, I found myself wondering if the critics so much as saw the film, much less read the book before they started in with the critical analysis.
I kept coming across headlines stating things like “Taylor Swift’s movie The Giver bombs at box office” (Taylor Swift is in all of about 10 minutes of the entire film via flashbacks)” Why ‘The Giver’ Movie Will Disappoint the Book’s Fans”, and even “The Giver: Pseduo-Rebellion for Conservative Sheep”. so I kept reading to figure out why all these people seemed to hate this movie that I thought was a really great interpretation of a novel I have loved since it was published in 1993.
First off, the book is always going to be better than the movie. There are a few exceptions to this, but we all know this to be relatively true. Books are not constrained to a time limit. They can have as many characters and they see fit without having to worry about paying each for their time. Also, a book is open to the interpretation of the reader. The scenery, the costumes, the faces of the characters; these are all open to whatever the audience can dream up. If I want Leighton Meester to play the mean girl in every YA novel I read throughout my entire life, I can make that happen (and, thus far, I pretty much have). I can cast the book the way I want it cast, I can add scenes or skip scenes, I can do whatever I please. A movie is not open to that kind of freedom for the audience. For that matter, it is not open to that kind of freedom for the directors or producers either. Everyone is going to be a little disappointed by something as a beloved book is turned into a film. It is not going to be the same book you read. Scenes will be cut for time, scenes with be added for continuity, characters will be combined for a myriad of reasons, characters will be flushed out to give the actors something more to work with or to get a bigger name in a particular role. Film production is a business, and as an audience, I think we have to respect that. Business decisions are made for the benefit of the production as a whole.
The second issue I had with a number of reviews I read was about the conservative nature of the film. I, by no means, consider myself a conservative. I think the story is allegorical in nature and could be taken in various ways. They film could be seen as very Pro-Life, as it is anti-infanticide, but no Pro-Choice supporter that I have ever met is for killing infants. It could be argued that the film shows the dangers of the government involvement in society. I saw it as a testament to what closed minded people can do in positions of power. They are literally making everyone the same, only recognizing traditional nuclear families, and eliminating anyone who is different by either medically suppressing their differences or by death. I see this as more liberal than conservative. The powers of interpretation…
My third issue with these reviews was the blatant lack of information that the reviewers seemed to have. Take this quote from Armond White of The National Review, “And no wonder: This film’s premise is embarrassingly similar to that of The Adjustment Bureau, The Hunger Games, Divergent, and others ad nauseum.” Except that this book was written in 1993, long before The Hunger Games or Divergent were so much as a pitch to a publisher. This is the book that arguably paved the way for these novel to be written. I am pretty certain this critic had no clue The Giver was originally a book. He also claimed that in the film you see “Meryl Streep doing an Anjelica Huston impersonation”. I completely disagree. To quote Modern Family on the matter: “Excuse me. Meryl Streep could play Batman and be the right choice. She is perfection.”
As far as my opinion goes, the movie is great. Is it the exact version I saw in my head when I read the book? No. But I am not paying to see the version I already saw in my head. When I see a film interpretation of a book I love, I want to see someone else’s version of the story. I want to see what I may have missed, what other got from it, what I can learn from their interpretation.
It can be said that I do not tend to be overly critical when it comes to film. Mostly because I do not see the point. Were there things I would have done differently, sure. Do I feel the overwhelming need to tear apart someone else’s art to feel, I don’t know: justified, validated, smug? No. This is a lovely film based on a beautiful book intended for children. I loved it as a child and I love it now. It is a starter novel that introduces children to Distopian literature. That is not a criticism in any way, that is what it is. This is affected in the film because the main characters are aged from 12 to 16. Though I am not sure why that has everyone up in arms as it does not affect the children seeing as how they are incredible sheltered and their hormones are being suppressed. They are not the sixteen year olds of our world with MTV, their own cars, and over-exposure to everything, they are very much still children. I would argue they are more innocent and certainly more naive that most modern 12 year olds.
The cast of this film is phenomenal. Jeff Bridges was born for this role and has owned the rights to the film for over a decade (he originally planned for his father, Lloyd Bridges to play the titular role before he died in 1998). Meryl Streep is, as always, perfection. Alexander Skarsgård is the perfect balance of endearing and sociopathic (not in a homicidal way, just void of empathy as everyone in this society is) that we have come to love and expect from him. Katie Holmes brings the deeply suppressed emotional life that she does so well, reminding me why we loved her so much and why I miss seeing her in more. The young adult cast is fairly unknown, but spectacular. Taylor Swift, is great, in a very small role, that you can ignore if you are one of the many who dislike her (I; however, am a big fan).
The production design is awesome. The color for the film is very well done. The music is chosen well and effectively. It feels stark when needed and not when not. You can feel the coldness of the society in the architecture as well as in the stiff polyester (guessing) of the clothing.
I recommend this film to anyone who loved the book when they were younger. Forget the critical reviews. Form your own opinion. This is mine.