Friday, September 12, 2014

11 Thoughts and Reactions to The Giver

A best-selling, ultra-controversial yet beloved book.  An audience still clamoring for more dystopian movies, even though the genre has basically been exhausted for two years.  Taylor Swift with some free time on her hands.

What do you get when you combine these things?  You get the kiddie version of 1984, or, more accurately, The Giver.  Except now, it's in movie form.  And either way, it's much better than 1984 and can appeal to a larger audience because it doesn't have rabid rats or love affairs in sketchy shop attics.  Plus, it's not dumbed-down at all, which is why so many people have tried to ban it.

Here are eleven thoughts and reactions.  Only numbers seven and eight are spoilery.
  1. It opens with a poorly-handled infodump.  The movie literally opens with words on a black screen.  Then some voiceover.  Really?  That's the best you can come up with?  Even The Hunger Games did better than that with their "Let's make the characters watch an infodump on a screen so we have an excuse to make the audience watch it, as well!".  I'll cut tHG a little slack, since at least it seems like they tried, but I won't give The Giver this same benefit.  Figure out another way.  It's not that hard.  The book has been getting by without it since 1993.
    Off in the distance, Captain America raises a finger and shouts, "Objection!"
  2. Pacing.  What's that?  I'll admit that pacing is something I'm picky about, but even by lower standards, this movie's pacing needs help.  The beginning scenes are decently paced, but towards the second half, it starts to feel rushed.  There's too much happening too fast.  First, the conflict revolves solely around Jonas, his family, and the Giver.  Suddenly, though, he's on a mission to save the entire Community, for motivations that were never clearly established.  He's running around urgently, but the audience is left wondering, "Wait, when did this happen?"  The receiving of memories, the most important plot concept, is nowhere near as fleshed-out as it should be.  The progression happens too fast, and there's not much time for any of it to sink in.
  3. Black and white--yay!  I was prepared to forgive a lot in this movie, on the condition that it was mainly in black and white.  And it was.  The simple truth is that I am not an objective moviegoer--nobody is.  And I'm a casual reviewer, so I feel no obligation to even pretend to be objective like some reviewers.  The lack of color is so important to the setting and overall theme that omitting it would be an insult to the book.*  
  4. Once you age the characters, you automatically get unnecessary kissing.  In the book, Jonas experiences the beginnings of feelings for his best friend, Fiona.  It doesn't go further than this, partly because he's only around twelve, and partly because daily injections have all but eliminated the experience of puberty, and therefore raging middle school hormones are nonexistent.  In the movie, Jonas kisses Fiona, and their other friend Asher witnesses it, for no particular reason other than to form an awkward love triangle.  That also exists for no particular reason.  But hey, it's a teenage dystopian movie, so we have to have a love triangle, right? 
  5. Lily: Can I be released?  Me: *excessive cringing and general discomfort*  To anyone that hadn't read the book, this scene was not particularly disturbing.  I knew exactly what "release" meant, though, so I was (understandably) uncomfortable with this.  The thought of an entire society being so blind to this is chilling, but a necessary and timely message.  (Fun fact: My seventh grade class read this book, and I was the only one who had read it before.  My teacher pulled me aside and swore me to secrecy on this subject, and basically everything else.)  
  6. Brenton Thwaites' sense of wonder is beautiful.  In the book, Jonas is a few years younger, and I was skeptical of the decision to age the characters.  In this aspect, though, the movie pleasantly surprised me.  Brenton Thwaites did a wonderful job conveying the sheer wonder Jonas feels when he receives the memories.  While some of the dialogue didn't feel realistic, his portrayal was always spot-on.  He's so giddy after seeing snow, and it makes him seem younger than he is.  And it's something beautiful.  Also, it's thought-provoking--we take things like snow, elephants, and dancing for granted, but what would it be like to live sixteen years not knowing they exist? 
  7. SLIGHTLY SPOILERY So much of this never happened in the book, but I don't fault the movie for most of it.  The extra romance adds nothing positive to the movie, and I wish the screenwriters could have resisted this temptation.  The other additions, though, don't bother me as much.  Though every book lover would like to see their favorites on screen exactly how they imagined it and exactly how it was written, but in most cases, this is impossible.  You can't tell a story the exact same way in a song as you can in, say, a painting, though both can be storytelling mediums.  The same thing applies to books and movies--though they're more closely connected, hey're still fundamentally different, and that calls for different interpretations.  (Come on, even Game of Thrones fans don't get to see every detail of the books reflected in the show, and they get over fifteen hours per book.)  The Giver in novel form is often subtle and ambiguous, two things which do not translate well to screen.  It's also a short book, and potentially lacked material to fill a full movie on its own, depending on the pacing.  In a movie, everything needs to be more visual and action-oriented.  Thus, events like Asher's betrayal and the entire concept of the Boundary of Memory (I think) were added.  They'll frustrate purists, but I didn't mind.
  8. SPOILER ALERT Taylor Swift.  Even though Taylor Swift's role feels a bit random to me, I don't mind this particular deviation from the book.  She plays Rosemary, the former Receiver of Memory and the Giver's daughter.  The role adds some interesting backstory, though every time she spoke, I half expected her to burst out in song.  "I'm the Giver's daughter *bass drop* OH *bass drop* OH *more bass* TROUBLE TROUBLE TROUBLE."  When did I ever pretend to be a professional reviewer? 
  9. Every time someone said "precision of language", I came a little closer to punching something.  This isn't a criticism of the movie--or the book, for that matter--it's just my knee-jerk reaction to this concept, in general.  In this movie's setting, language is meant to be precise, formal, and direct.  This isn't a bad thing, in itself, but as an English major, the thought of taking all the nuance out of language is appalling.  Also, the Community has erased concepts like love, meaning that Jonas' father "enjoys his presence" and "takes pride in his accomplishments", rather than loves him.  As if we need any more proof that the Community is seriously messed up.  (Also, every member of the family is required to discuss their stunted and formalized feelings at every meal, a tradition literally referred to as "it's time for Feelings".  Cue involuntary shudders from every INTJ in the audience.)
  10. Regardless of how I felt about this movie, I got to hear Ryan Tedder's voice keening out of large speakers at the end.  In my experience, Ryan Tedder (and the rest of OneRepublic, of course) and large speakers are always a good combination.  Their song 'Ordinary Human', written for this movie, is nowhere near the best song they've ever done, but it fits well.
  11. Many of my reactions are not "nice" but "nicely handled".  I can't say I'm impressed by this movie, but I appreciate it.  I love the book, and I feel it's an important story for our society to be exposed to, but the movie just doesn't have the same effect.  It's a difficult book to translate to film--I'll give it that.  And, for the most part, the writers and directors did a good job with what they had.  Ultimately, though, if you're looking to experience The Giver to the fullest, you should read the book.

Overall, my feelings are mixed.  I enjoyed it, but it just didn't impact me the same way the book did.  Fixing the pacing issues would have made my review much more favorable, but that won't happen.  Still, though, I'd recommend it for fans of the book. 

If you're interested, there's a full article here detailed the differences between the book and movie.

Have you seen The Giver?  What did you think?

*Yes, movies can indirectly give the middle finger to their books, whether intentionally or not.  Remember that time in the Eragon movie when Brom guesses Eragon's age as "Fifteen, sixteen..." and Eragon angrily responds with "SEVENTEEN!"?  First, the book clearly states Eragon's age as fifteen, and in that case, aging him two years would make no difference.  Also, Brom would know exactly what Eragon's age was.  For obvious reasons.  (It's worth mentioning that the movie came out before Eragon's parentage was revealed in Brisingr, but all this does is make a stronger case for the fact that movie companies should wait until an entire series is released before trying to make a movie.)

PS: I don't know why most of the GIFs I could find are in color.
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