YA Movie Review: The Giver

As you probably don’t recall, my initial interest in seeing this film was Alexander Skarsgard. I’m a Trubie and quite frankly, the book was written while I was in middle school, so it was never required reading for me. After the kerfuffle of the first trailer came about, I decided to go ahead and read the book then, as opposed to waiting until after I’d seen the film like I’d originally planned to. I really did enjoy the book. I liked the ambiguity of it, and found it to be a thoughtful meditation on emotion and what it means to be human. I also instantly worried that the book was essentially unfilmable – a side effect of the fact that it is such an internal book with almost no action to speak of.

So now that I’ve seen it, how did it turn out?

Eh.

On the one hand, the film is simply beautiful to look at. The art direction here is fabulous, and color was used incredibly wisely, especially towards the end of the film as you’re shifting perspectives from someone like Jonas or The Giver to someone who still doesn’t have feeling and there are quick and subtle cuts back and forth between color and black and white.

Jeff Bridges was great in his role – he had the gravitas needed for his role. The other adults did well enough here, though Meryl Streep’s Elder was more menacing and generic dystopian villain than she had been in the original book. Taylor Swift’s Rosemary had such a tiny (easily less than five minutes of screen time) part in the film that it wasn’t until the film had ended that it even occurred to me that that was her. She should not dissuade you from seeing the film. As for Alexander Skarsgard, he played the fatherly figure quite well – not that it’s a surprise, he was amazing as a unwilling father figure in What Maisie Knew. If you’re going to see it just for him, I’d probably say a matinee/wait for discounted showings, he isn’t in it enough to justify seeing the film by himself. As for the kids? Yeah….Brenton Thwaites and Odeya Rush both felt a bit on the wooden side, though Odeya was the better of the two. Cameron Monaghan’s Asher may as well not have even been in the movie if it weren’t for the fact that he was needed for that finale. Speaking of…

The film is pretty faithful to the book for a good chunk of the film, except that they greatly downplayed the pain that being The Receiver of Memories is – you hear the rule about not taking pain killers but never get any explanation as to why. The worst pain he suffers was a bee sting, a rather far cry from the books. Where they botched it all up though was that ending. Oy. That ending. The book was incredibly ambiguous and you really don’t know what becomes of Jonas or the baby. It’s all left up in the air. The movie though, you can’t have that. Oh no.  They need something more definitive, more concrete. And it’s stupid. It’s the new ending that gives this film that funny feeling of Sameness (pun intended) compared to YA dystopian films based off of modern properties and worse still, it makes everything kind of fall apart when you realize how stupid this all it – it breaks down the carefully constructed suspension of disbelief that the viewer has built up over the film. It kind of ruined it for me, actually.  After I give my verdict, I’ll go into some spoilers for those are curious. Oh, and the romance between Jonas and Fiona is built up a bit, but it neither made nor broke the film for me. Most of it winds up tying into the ending so how you feel about it might be more tied to that than anything else.

Overall, this is a middling adaptation at best, because of that ending. It is certainly better than the trainwrecks that were Beautiful Creatures or The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, but not better than the solid, if unremarkable Vampire Academy adaptation. If you’re a fan of the book, you probably won’t want to spend more than a matinee ticket on it. If it caught your eye, but you haven’t read the book yet, hold off until you’ve seen it, you may it enjoy it more that way.

Okay. If you’re spoiler free and want to stay away, now’s the time to move along. Because it’s spoiler time.

So the new ending.

In the film Jonas does get Fiona to stop taking her injection, but she’s still not down with the idea of fleeing with Jonas. When he goes to grab Gabe, however, she leads the guards on a merry chase so Jonas can grab the baby and get out. He does, knowing that he needs to get to the Boundary Of Memory so that he can release the memories and save Fiona.

Fiona and the Giver are both held in cells, and Fiona is going to be released for aiding Jonas.

Asher, a pilot in the film, spots Jonas in the wild and drops him off into some water so he can get away.

Meanwhile, while Jonas is fleeing and Fiona is about to be released, The Giver gives a big speech to the Elders, to Jonas’ mom and Jonas’s dad (who can hear them while he’s preparing to release Fiona) about love and emotion and blah, blah blah. Somehow, Jonas uses a conveniently placed sled (from the memory) to cross the boundary, and somehow magically everyone has…something back. It’s not exactly clear what, except that Fiona doesn’t end up gettig released. The Communities get color, but there seems to be no other reaction to getting the memories back. Guess the injections are still suppressing emotion or something?  Meanwhile, a frostbitten Jonas finds the house from the memory (which is at the end of a clearly groomed with a snow-plow road) and he just knows things are going to be okay.

I don’t even know how it works, how him crossing that line magically released everything. It just did. And who was maintaining that log cabin in such perfect shape. Where did the snow plow come from, since we have no hints that anyone lives beyond the boundary. Why did it not throw society into chaos?  Both Jonas and Rosemary freaked out upon basically having one bad memory thrown at them, how will not the whole society break down in hysterics. The ending makes you question the entire premise and set up of the world which is the last thing it should be doing!

The ambiguity of the original ending worked and it shouldn’t have been touched.

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