The Giver is a highly influential work, which laid the foundation for modern YA dystopian literature, but – to be honest – I only picked up this novel after seeing the trailer for the film version. When I eventually got around to reading this sci-fi classic, I saw many parallels in world-building with some of the most popular current YA books (cough Divergent cough cough). My reaction to this rather short novel was a little mixed.
I found the book thought-provoking and highly engaging, but the ending left me completely dissatisfied. Bear in mind, however, I’ve only read book 1 of the quadrology so perhaps my many questions will be answered in the sequels. Still, the first book has a lot going for it especially when taken less literally and more allegorically as I think the story was perhaps intended. This is not hard sci-fi and many aspects of the world simply are. One has to suspend disbelief a fair amount, but that’s part of the beauty of the novel. Metaphors abound, and the poignancy and power of the story lies in peeling away those parable-like layers to uncover the simple truth at the core of the story.
Suffice it to say, given my expectations for the story after seeing the movie trailer, I was a little disappointed. Looking at the book and ignoring what I thought I glimpsed of the film, I enjoyed the book and can see why it has become such a beloved and seminal work in the genre.
Fast forward eight months and I finally got around to seeing the movie. Had I known Taylor Swift was in it, I might have been less enthusiastic about the film, however, I can promise you that any Taylor Swiftness on posters and in promo is all a marketing ploy. She has a tiny – if important – role in the film and has very little screen time. The real star of the show is Brenton Thwaites as Jonas and he’s really quite lovely in his role as the compassionate and curious Receiver.
The Giver film is competing against franchises like The Hunger Games, Divergent and even The Maze Runner. In order to give The Giver more teen appeal and to capture The Hunger Games/Divergent audience, the movie tried to be a lot that the book was not. The movie – despite being adapted from the predecessor of the modern dystopian trend – feels a little too familiar and cliche because it tries a little too hard to fit in aesthetically and tonally with the other YA adaptations. I wish the film had foregone the shiny technology additions and stuck with the utilitarian world-building of the book. I can also understand why the film producers chose to up the age of the protagonists and up the angst as well, but I’m not sure it really added all that much to the overall story except making it feel like another teen movie when it should’ve been so much more than that.
Where the film did excel was in the cinematography and use of black&white and colour. This is described well in the book, but the visual medium of film really brought this to life. I do think they could’ve done even more with that, although I think they were trying to stay true to the book here. I was also hoping for more of an emotional impact from the memories in the film. Some of those memory sharing scenes in the book are brutal and really broke my heart for Jonas. It didn’t have quite the same impact for me in the film – perhaps because the character was older.
The ending of the book disappointed me but the film managed to deliver a very similar ending in a way that stayed true to the book while also providing a greater sense of closure. Where I think the book meandered into allegory, the movie developed the plot and made a more compelling story overall, even if some of the ‘science’ of how all this was possible is dubious at best.
A major highlight from the film for me was seeing the usually uber sexy and seductive Alexander Skarsgård playing a nurturing father figure who worked in the nursery with newborns while his wife – played by the petite Katie Holmes – was involved in politics. Seeing 6’4 Eric Northman – sorry, Alex Skarsgård – so tenderly caring for tiny babies really highlighted the gender dynamics and theme of equality in the book. It was a very clever casting choice.
So… The Giver as both book and film is thought provoking and definitely worth experiencing. I would say it is a must-read/must-see for anyone who is a fan of modern dystopian YA. I think both book and movie score equally for me. I give them 3.5/5 ink splats each.