Yesterday I was scrolling through Netflix looking for a movie to watch while I graded first grade math papers (which is riveting stuff, believe me). I didn’t have to scroll long before I saw The Giver in the Recently Added section. (*Disclaimer: I live in the Dominican Republic which means I have Dominican Netflix, which is a little different than American Netflix and every other Netflix, I’m assuming.) I’ve wanted to see The Giver since it came out so there was no question about what was going to be the backdrop to my Sunday afternoon grading party. Now, I very vocally had reservations about this movie since Lois Lowry’s The Giver is one of my top ten all time favorite books. I remember reading it for the first time in 6th grade – my 6th grade homeroom teacher had a bookcase full of all different kinds of novels we could borrow at our leisure – and gobbling it up in like, two homeroom periods. I read it most recently two years ago as part of the 100 Best Children’s Chapter Book Challenge and I still love it.
Given my reservations and my fierce loyalty to the book I was surprised when I ADORED the movie. Like, wanted to immediately just start it all over from the beginning once I started seeing credits. I didn’t start out that way, as the beginning was way too Hunger Games. Disembodied female voice starkly telling me about the fall of civilization and the consequent rise, now where have I heard that before? Also, the screens and projections were too much for me, but as I stated in my post about the movie trailer, I think that’s more personal than literarily contrary. I just never pictured Jonas’s world to be so…. cold and technologically advanced. Of course that could be because Lois Lowry didn’t write her novel in 2015 when “dystopian sci fi with heavy doses of YA romance” is the preferred genre. She wrote The Giver in 1993, as a predecessor of the whole dystopian thing we have all come to know and love.
Anyway, once we got past the intro and I got over the overlapping projections, I had very few criticisms. First of all, Brenton Thwaites as Jonas is perfection. Perfection. He is innocent and passionate and vulnerable and curious and brave. And totally handsome, of course. One of my criticisms of the trailer was that movie-Jonas is so much older than book-Jonas but it totally works. Jeff Bridges is also pure gold as The Giver. He is honest and careful and bold and loving and a preserver of beautiful things. He believes strongly in the power of love but he does so with a full beard and that gruff man voice. It’s wonderful. And there’s a beautiful montage of The Giver transferring all these different memories to Jonas that is just precious. A high school kid I tutored this summer who spoke English as his second language explained a relationship he had with a women he now calls “mom,” like this, “We fell in love, but not like romantically, like a mother and son.” That montage is when The Giver and Jonas fall in love. Not romantically, but like a father and son.
The whole thing is just one of the best cinematic reminders I’ve seen in a while (I’m thinking of Walter Mitty and Into the Wild) of what a great, wonderful, broken, awesome world we live in. I thought of Glennon Doyle Melton towards the end when The Giver is pleading with Chief Elder Meryl Streep (who could play Batman and be the right choice) to let it all back in – the hurt and the joy, the love and the loss – and how she (Glennon) calls life “brutiful” – both brutal and beautiful. The ending is different and more than the book and rather than bother me it excited me. It’s a wonderful and hopeful ending. A reminder that the loss is worth the pain if we also get to experience love.
Perhaps something I enjoyed most about the movie, and about the story in general (props to LL), was that nobody in the whole civilization knew that there was a problem. Everyone had been convinced and drugged into believing that life was perfect. There was no knowledge of another way, so they were content with living a colorless life. It was only because Jonas had the gift of seeing beyond that he became passionately discontent, that he became bent on sharing all the “more” that was missing from their world with those he loved. Because that’s how you love people – you share with them the best and worst parts of yourself and of the world. Because keeping people in the dark, even for their own good, isn’t love, it’s oppression.
I highly recommend The Giver if…
…you like brave and adorable protagonists.
…dystopian futures are your jam.
…you like reminders of how great this world is.
…you read and enjoyed the book.
Some great quotes:
“A dwelling is not a home. A home is more.”
“Memories are not just about the past. They determine our future.”
“If you can’t feel, what’s the point?”
“With love comes faith, comes hope.”