Whatever your opinion is of Lois Lowry’s The Giver, the story behind it is fascinating and heartbreaking. She wrote it because she was asking a question–as she puts it, she wrote it because she was wondering about something. It was something her son had asked her, when he was flying missions in the first war in Iraq. He said that every day he was flying he would look down through the smoke and ask himself, “why do people do such terrible things to each other, and what can we do to stop it?” Her son tragically passed away.
That’s a powerful reason to write a book, and that’s an incredibly difficult question. When Lowry attempted to answer it in The Giver she gave us what is, in my opinion, an absolutely amazing book. To be honest, it’s one of my favorites, if not my favorite. Thus, I was quite excited for the film, but had low expectations. I was worried that since the book was so introspective the film wouldn’t be able to capture the emotion, the drama, and the conflict that goes on.
Sadly, I was right.
The Giver, the film, should be given credit for trying really hard. Whether for good or for ill, the film sticks rather close to the book. While it did introduce more action, as well as increase the scope and focus of the film, by and large this is The Giver.
And actually, I think that’s one of the flaws of the film. Like I said, the book is incredibly introspective, and that’s one of the primary reasons it worked, in my opinion. The book isn’t about a community that’s lost emotion and color and beauty, it’s about a boy who’s lost emotion and color and beauty. The difference is everything. The book doesn’t try to make grand statements about humanity and all of human experience. Instead, it tries to tell the story of one boy and his experience, and in so doing happens to say something grand.
The film reverses that. It tries to say something grand, and happens to have a boy at the center of it. Which, of course, misses the entire point.
The film, instead of being an emotionally charged character study, is a critique of society. That means that now the question of the importance of emotions is being discussed on a massive scale, as the powers in the world of The Giver grapple with the equilibrium they’ve created and that is now slowly slipping away. Now, in of and itself, a critique of society isn’t a bad story, but the critique cannot fall prey to the same problems it is criticizing. The Giver does just this.
The Giver film starts out well–it seems like it’s going to create the emotional pull that made the book what it is. But very quickly, you realize that because the questions and themes of the book are being played out on a large scale, the emotion is disappearing. The film rises to its climax where it attempts to tell us how important and vital emotion is to human experience, but ironically fails to contain any emotion of its own.
In short, it’s an emotionless movie about the importance of emotion, and it simply doesn’t work. I think most of the other problems in the film stem from this simple fault; and as a result, the film never manages to get itself off the ground. Lois Lowry wrote The Giver to examine an important question, and she knew just how to do it. The Giver film tries to examine an important concept, but never manages to do it in the right way. I can’t recommend this film.