my lengthy thoughts on “The Giver” (novel)- no thanks, Hollywood

Way back in the day, before “Harry Potter” came into my life, I wasn’t really a big fan of reading. Heck, I was lucky if I actually read through the books we were assigned in English class.

In 8th grade, we read “The Giver,” I didn’t quite get it at first as I often don’t get a lot of books. But for whatever reason, I really got into it after we were done with it in class. I borrowed the book on tape from the library. In 2003, roughly two years later, I bought the book and read through it maybe 3 more times.
When I heard they were making a movie, I was thrilled… then the years went by and it became less of a possibility.

Then the trailer came out and everything I knew more or less got stomped on.
Part of me is highly curious about the movie, how it really differs from the book and such. The other part of me wants to really be prepared. I’d hate to read through the book after seeing the movie (in whatever capacity it may be, I doubt I’d be willing to fork over $7 to spend 90+ minutes yelling at the atrocity) and have it ruin whatever pictures I see in my head.

Buzzfeed has posted a couple articles on this issue so it already spares me some of the nit-picks and surprises. But it also served to give me more fire-power to be overly negative.

My biggest issue has been the inclusion of Meryl Streep. I already have my issues when it comes to awards season where people feel compelled to nominate her EVERY SINGLE YEAR… right away, we have a problem when she and Jeff Bridges get billing higher than the guy who plays Jonas.
Jeff Bridges, I can see as The Giver (although I pictured the character with a longer beard, more wrinkles and wearing folded clothing akin to robes).
Meryl Streep’s character, the Chief Elder, is only in the book from pages 51-64. For whatever reason, they decided to make her the Chief ANTAGONIST. Cannot see a trailer without her stupid “if we let people choose, they choose wrong” line. The body of Elders makes the decisions about what assignments the youth receive and if they come across something they don’t understand or propose a new idea, they ask for The Giver’s advice. That’s all it is. The Chief Elder is not President Snow from The Hunger Games… this unforgivable move (in addition to getting her name on the bill to give it street cred it could have gotten from its fan base) warped our beloved utopia into a dystopia where we have one person desperate to maintain control.

Now I’m reading that they made Fiona a nurturer [likely to tie her more directly to the “release” scene, a pivotal part of Jonas’s character arc], Asher’s a pilot [to tie him into final action scene completely out of nowhere]… when they did this in Harry Potter when they delegated Dobby’s contributions to Neville, that was a minor thing, simply a nitpick that they wanted to use who was already on set…
doing this with Asher and Fiona [don’t get me started on the ridiculous love story aspect!!] is making this a completely different story, another atrocity.
Heck, Fiona is only in 5 scenes in the entire book. No sexual tension at all. It’s not necessary.

Visually, my biggest problem was that they didn’t cast a teen with pale eyes to play Jonas… the pale blue eyes are what set him apart for crying out loud! Why was that such a hard detail to uphold? They didn’t even try contacts like they attempted with Harry Potter (I accept the fact Daniel Radcliffe having blue eyes and being allergic to green contacts).

Probably the biggest issue at hand is that this movie was realized too late. It’s hard not to make comparisons to Divergent and the Hunger Games.
After the utopia/dystopia debate, the biggest difference is that there are no factions or districts in The Community. There’s free will in Divergent at the Choosing ceremony. You do have the choice to pick against your test results. Everything in The Community runs like clockwork, carefully organized down to match-making and having two children per family unit (one male, one female).

While reading through the book, taking notes and such, I not only indicated the important scenes, but I found myself asking questions I hadn’t before.

One question: since they have one male and female child per family unit and there are 50 newchildren born every year, does that mean 25 are male and 25 are female?
IF so, do they genetically manipulate fetuses to be a certain sex? If they fulfill their quota for a particular sex, do they perform abortions on children that are the wrong sex?
This line of questioning continued with me later on with the identical twin issue. In a perfect society like this, how are twins even a possibility?
It’s one thing that they can’t quite figure out the anomaly of redheads, but that feels like a big ol’ question mark.

Technically speaking, you can have 20 scenes in a movie, each scene running about 5 minutes, and you’ll have a movie about 100 minutes long. The Giver has 23 chapters, each focusing on one scene. If not a scene, a montage.

Chapter 1 focuses on the “discussion of feelings” at the dinner table.
Jonas’s father is concerned about Gabriel, a baby he’s nurturing that isn’t growing on schedule or sleeping through the night.
Jonas’s mother works in the department of Law & Justice and a rule-breaker was brought before her a second time, so she’s a little frustrated. If there’s a third rule-breaking, he’ll be released.
Lily is angry about a male visiting from another community that kept cutting in line. The parents defused the situation easily enough, but in hindsight, it sounded like they made too little of it. The whole explanation that he might feel strange in a new place and not know the rules… BS! the kid was a jerk and definitely have issues coming up in his future if his attitude wasn’t fixed.

Jonas could be in his head about his feelings while we have this commentary going on, but soon we get to him and he knows what he feels is apprehension.

Chapter 2 focuses on the significance of the ceremony of 12, assignments and such.
Two scenes in and we’re at Jonas’s home. Other movies have spent a good part of the time focused in one area, so that shouldn’t be a huge deal. I mean, c’mon, The Godfather spends the first half hour at the wedding, lots of minutes are spent with the Godfather doing business. We shouldn’t feel compelled to go into action right away just to keep interest.

I made a note in this chapter that Lily reminds me so much of Stephanie Tanner in the earlier seasons of “Full House,” a very opinionated precocious blabbermouth.

In Chapter 3 we meet Gabriel and Jonas thinks about the “apple incident”… which we later learn to be him seeing the color red for the first time. I’m sure that’s something that could be handled in another capacity, not necessarily at the same time as this introduction.

Chapter 4, we officially meet Jonas’s best friend Asher and also Fiona while they volunteer at the house of the old. Supposedly they couldn’t shoot this cuz the scene occurred in the bathing room and there was nudity concerns. But it’s significant in leading to Jonas’s first “stirrings”.
It’s also another subtle mention of “release”, this time for a man named Roberto after the home had one final celebration… interestingly, that comes up a few times, the reasons why it comes about. Because ultimately, Jonas finding the truth about it is why he turns against his Community and leaves.

Chapter 5- the immature people would call this a “wet dream” sequence… more or less, Jonas dreams about wanting to get Fiona into a tub of water to bathe her, the wanting of intimacy. Pretty significant stuff.
In the movie, everyone gets daily “injections”… maybe more practical for the big screen, but c’mon…
I mean, this is a coming of age story, right? There should be more character development before we get the actual plot started.

Chapter 6- could be pulled together in a montage. The only really significant part is the Naming ceremony and the absence of Gabriel. And some conversation between Jonas and Asher about someone who jumped in the river after getting an assignment he didn’t want (an urban legend, if you will)
Chapter 7- the ceremony of 12, another montage, but had some commentary on Asher… funny how he was born a while before Jonas yet is less emotionally mature than him. And Jonas being skipped over completely

Chapter 8- Jonas is named the Receiver of Memory, everyone’s in awe of him. The Elder goes through a laundry list of qualities he has. He sees The Giver in the sea of faces that start to change, as he starts to see the red flesh-tones in their faces

Chapter 9- another brief chapter that focuses on the reactions of Jonas’s selection among his friends and his family. Other people looking at him differently. The previous Receiver is mentioned but they do not speak her name as it’s a pretty big disgrace and memory of a very startling, frightening time. the ONE PAGE of instructions.
And I made a note here similar to what I said before: how this is a role of great respect, that holds the burdens the community cannot function with, so why make it about a power struggle?

Chapter 10- probably the most significant scene in the story: meeting the title character.
Beforehand, Jonas rides with Fiona and she says if they finish at the same time they can ride home together.
I wrote down my description of the room, although how it looks in the trailers has started to seep into my head. What stuck out to me was the way Jonas spoke, unsure, stumbling over himself. It makes him seem so human.
Chapter 11- the first memories of the sled on the snow and sunshine, talking about how long ago climate control was installed in the Community

Chapter 12- “seeing beyond” is finally explained. There are awkward pauses in the conversation between Jonas and Fiona. Her talking about her new assignment and he says nothing about his even when she allows time for him to speak… in the interest of time, I suppose this conversation could be done early on, seeing the color red.
Also recalls the sled from the first memory, how color was done away with at the same time climate control came into play.

I had another question here: some racism apparently is in place because all the flesh tones are red. Then I ask myself how everyone sees in gray yet the pale blue eyes are able to see colors. Does everyone else lack cones in their eyes that allow them see colors? Is the ability to see color linked to the recessive gene that makes blue eyes?

Chapter 13 runs pretty long, one of the longer chapters so far, maybe in the whole book. This might be where they got that ridiculous Meryl Streep quote from. They’re talking about having choices and how they can sometimes prove dangerous, particularly when it comes to match-making the couples. “Why if they choose wrong?”
Here, we also see Jonas trying to pass memories onto his friends. There could be a montage of seeing colors in the community and memories, one including the dying elephant whose mate mourns for him. Jonas trying to tell Lily about elephants being real and trying to pass the memory to her.
The notion also comes up about having a family and how they’d have to be kept in the dark about what the two of them did with the memories.

Chapter 14 has some significant developments. Jonas starts to experience the painful memories. First the broken leg… pretty graphic stuff and it’s vivid in my head how he’s hugging his legs on the bed, trying to deal with the vivid pain. Each day would have painful memories ending with a happy one.
Anger about a memory of starvation- The Giver explains how the Elders considered adding another to the family units and how it could lead to a food storage which could lead to war. This also goes back to the wayward pilot mentioned in the first chapter, how The Giver advised not to shoot him down because that could have negative consequences.
There’s more issues coming up about Gabriel. Him not sleeping has Jonas’s mother on edge, which stuck out to me. If this went on for much longer, it could have caused irreparable damage to the family unit. The personalities of her stoic nature and his father’s easy-going were clashing.
Then Jonas accidentally starts giving away memories just for Gabriel to sleep.

If only they had more patience and realized that all babies adjust to sleeping at SOME point… Sure it causes tension and frustration, but… whatever. The reasoning is flawed anyway.
Jonas’s father also talks about the twins they’re expecting. Twin males. Again, I ask if this is something they could have prevented. They have pills that take away sex drive and true emotions and they have no issue with euthanizing people. Why is it such a stretch to not nip this in the bud right away? Why are twins even a possibility? Doesn’t their technology have the ability to see whether they’re identical, if it’s really as advanced as their genetics lab is?

Chapter 15- The warfare memory that plays a significant role for Jonas later on, probably the most unsettling memory he’ll ever receive. That’s definitely something that could last those 5 minutes, between Jonas going to receive the memory and his reaction after it ends.

Chapter 16- a montage of pleasant memories. My favorite one was the bond between him and a horse (mainly because it reminded me of my Jonas who has that spiritual connection with his horses, who are physical manifestations of elements in nature). The Giver gives him his favorite, the Christmas memory.
Jonas asks about love at the dinner table and his parents completely blow it off.
It ends with Jonas stopping taking the pills

Chapter 17- Jonas sees in full color now. It’s a holiday and his friends are playing war… something that doesn’t sit well with him at all. His reaction weirds out the other kids with only Asher and Fiona remaining. Asher’s insulted since his assignment was about making games. Fiona tries to comfort Jonas and asks if he’d like to ride with her to the river- he refuses. It’s the last time we should see either of them.
Timeline wise, Jonas had been without the pills for a month and they’re a month away from the next Ceremony (one year after Jonas’s selection)

Chapter 18- Jonas asks The Giver about release and the previous Receiver.
She only made it 5 weeks into training before she was released. The memory that broke her was a child being taken from its parents. The only painful memories he gave her were of anguish, terror and emotional distress… nothing literally painful.
After reading Chapter 19, I felt it might be better for the overall flow to have these scenes in reverse order. Jonas sees the release and while he’s in a daze afterwards, The Giver talks about Rosemary’s release.

Chapter 19- Jonas talks through his father’s release of the Twin. It’s a very small room with a table, a bed, a scale and a garbage chute. The Giver explains watching Rosemary’s release, how she committed suicide by insisting to give herself the lethal injection.

Chapter 20- Jonas has to stay the night because he is inconsolable, angry and sarcastic. He loses all respect for his father who he sees as nothing but a murderer.
The two of them start to plan how they can change things, Jonas can leave the community and The Giver stays to help them accept the memories. If this wasn’t such a formal time period (to me, it feels like something out of the 1950’s), I feel like he’d say something like “screw everyone else, let them suffer alone with the memories”
The game plan- Jonas slips away at night, The Giver orders a transport and Jonas sneaks in the storage to Elsewhere.

Chapter 21- the entire game plan goes out the window because Jonas hears that they’re going to release Gabriel.
I can see it playing: the dead of night, Jonas getting supplies and the last thing he takes is Gabriel. Then in flashbacks, we see the conversation at dinnertime where Jonas is dumbstruck about the decision.
The two of them go on the run, hiding the bike in the bushes and sleeping during the day. We have a few close calls with the search planes which use heat-seeking radar so they use snow memories to grow cold to avoid their detection

Chapter 22- they see wildlife for the first time, a montage of Jonas trying to find and catch more food for them, the two of them being on the brink of starvation

Chapter 23- it all ends with Jonas trudging through the snow on foot with Gabriel in his arms. Stumbling a few times, about to give up until he sees the sled from the memory. Maybe he starts to hear music or starts to hear voices from The Giver and his friends urging him on. The two of them ride the sled to the new town where it just might be Christmas time.

I’m sure the final 3 chapters can be condensed in the interest of them, but it really isn’t necessary to have a chase scene like the movie supposedly does. It could be like a spy film with the thriller aspects, the tension, but while convincing, none of it comes close to finding them.

The way I see the movie in my head, it feels like something that could have been made in the 70’s. Certainly not in this century. Apparently they couldn’t do it until they had the technology for the monochromatic landscape.

It really is a tragedy.
Whenever I do see the movie, it’ll likely be on HBO… heck, if I’m lucky it’ll be on Starz and I’ll never have to suffer through seeing it.

I saw the scene with Taylor Swift. I understand having the pre-recorded footage of Rosemary, but having her play piano… that kinda doesn’t sense since this is a world without music. The Giver has had the ability to hear beyond but that doesn’t necessarily mean Rosemary had to have it as well.
As for the rest of the cast, I hear they’re pretty wooden. The guy who plays Jonas wasn’t even given good reviews.
But like I said, he didn’t match what I saw while reading the book at all. Alexander Skarsgard playing his father… how old is that guy? Clearly he’s not old enough to be his father. Katie Holmes, they just had her to have another big name. Reading about Jonas’s sterner mother, she doesn’t fit the description for me at all.

So yeah, I guess that’s all I can. I may one day put together my own screenplay for how I’d adapt my favorite book for the cinema. The way it plays in my head, it feels like it’d be a better indie film than something by the Weinstein company. It feels good that it flopped at the box office, but it’s tragic because the writing is better than so many of the other YA book adaptations we’ve had.

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