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Hollywood vs. The Giver


So it seems my favorite childhood book is finally (finally!) becoming a movie. I certainly cannot let this occasion pass without comment. (Comments which are loaded with spoilers, btw)

I have notoriously complicated feelings about Lois Lowry’s The Giver. It is a book that holds a special place in my heart and memory, a book I have probably read a dozen times.

As an self-respecting Professional Book Person, I acknowledge that shedding some of my own precious feelings about books is an essential part of the job. I am used to complicated book feelings. I get less riled up when the media misrepresents children’s and YA lit. I take movie adaptations with a huge grain of salt, and I am pretty good at considering the two as separate pieces of art.

But The Giver movie? I don’t know if I can approach this adaptation with my Professional Book Person tricks. Grad school may have given this book a beat-down, but within My Own Personal Canon, it holds up to multiple re-readings, to close scrutiny. I can’t pry The Giver all the way from my psyche, so I’m not sure I am going to be able to watch this movie as a separate entity or without considering what the movie should have been or could have been.

I feel like I’m beating around the bush, so here’s a thesis statement: I am concerned this movie will not do the book justice whatsoever. Yes, most of my concern comes from aforementioned young reading experiences and personal feelings. But some of them are not.

First and foremost… are they really filming this entirely in color? I hold onto a thread of hope that maybe the trailer is a trick, that the filmmakers wanted to save the black and white transition for the theatrical release,  for maximum impact. It seems like a bit of a hokey point to get hung up on, but it’s such an obvious move that to abandon it seems portentous. Every person I’ve ever talked to about The Giver as a movie – from my first reading in 1995 to my most recent re-read in 2008 – suggests it. Jonas’s gradual shift to seeing colors is a major turning point in the novel and such an important part of what separates Jonas’s community from our own. Such a smart plot device… and just so obviously cinematic.

I am starting to feel like a disgruntled Harry Potter fan. “But Hogwarts didn’t look like that in my imagination. The Great Hall was so much greater and Ron looked like this and Hermione wasn’t like that and…” But a work like Rowling’s – or any other high-concept kid’s book that ends up on the big screen – has so many fantastical possibilities that there is no way any interpretation will match up with the text, will stand up to your vision. The Giver is a more manageable beast, and despite its relative lack of Harry Potter-level opulence, seems almost more reliant on visuals. The shift from utopia to dystopia is slow – right in line with Jonas’s brainwashed twelve-year-old perspective. Lowry creates such a comforting utopia – it’s just like our world, but without the doubt, uncertainty, pain that sit with us even as children. The utopia is powerful and Jonas’s slow education even more so.

When I watch this trailer, I don’t feel comforted for one second. The sets and costumes are aggressively “sci fi.” The interior shots show oversized boxy homes filled with that affected, Jetson-esque furniture that is supposed to look futuristic. Instead of slowly injecting discomfort into an otherwise familiar setting, the aesthetics of the film skip right to the dystopia, which, to me, is a much bigger violation than a red apple.

Maybe I’ve just read the book too many damn times – my brain permanently imprinted with 20-year-old images. But I am worried that a great book that could have been a great movie has been Hollywood-ized to death. The world needs another teen sci-fi-adventure-romance, so why not The Giver? If I can make myself see the movie, I will have to work hard to keep my cool, keep that non-psycho Professional Book Person hat on tight and try not to have a conniption.

Or, more likely, I will wait until a trusted children’s-lit friend watches it. If they report back negatively, I will never watch it and pretend it doesn’t exist. The Utopia Of Your Favorite Childhood Book. I can hold onto that one.

One Comment

  1. Amanda says:

    I have to agree with everything you said . . I’m not a huge fan of books turned into movies so I doubt I’d watch it anyway, but this story had the potential to be a super cool, intriguing film (which has been ruined from the looks of it). And that trailer music is downright creepy/sinister. sigh.

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