The Giver: film review

August 14, 2014 2014, events, films, Wendy 96


Here’s the deal: if you’re an extreme purist who will cry foul at the changes that were made to adapt Lois Lowry’s book, it’s probably best if you skip the film adaptation of The Giver, which is in theaters tomorrow. But if you’re willing to keep an open mind, this is a solidly entertaining film, and one that made some bold, and dare I say it, smart choices in translating story to screen.

The book is about a boy living in a dystopian society in which vocations are assigned, feelings are carefully controlled, and no one questions authority. Lowry’s middle grade novel is short but powerful, with a style that is impressively spare and unusually somber for this age group. The film made a number of significant changes, which may seem alarming if you haven’t seen the film yet, but for the most part I think they worked very well.

A few of the changes:(Possible minor spoilers if you haven’t read the book yet.)

  • Jonas is eleven in the book, but he’s a young adult in the film. Aging the characters up works for a number of reasons: he’s a very mature, and later on takes on a huge responsibility that frankly stretches credulity even when you read about it in the book. He reasons calmly, uncovers a painful history in his Community, questions authority, and then he takes action even though he knows it is dangerous and will change his future forever. Seeing this done by a teenager is much more believable than seeing it done by a younger actor, no matter how gifted, even if you’re just thinking of logistics. View Spoiler » Another important issue is that in this society, feelings and desires are repressed through mandatory drugs, and procreation is regulated–Jonas feels “stirrings” for Fiona in the book and has a dream about her, but it would be extremely difficult to portray sexual awakening with an eleven-year-old onscreen in a way that didn’t feel squicky. I don’t think changing Jonas’ age worked against the story in any way, and I actually think it improved upon it for a visual medium.
  • The romance is built up between Jonas and Fiona, but it doesn’t overtake the plot. The script took its time with showing us their friendship and history, and the romance added sweetness and urgency to the story, particularly towards the end. There’s also a moment created for this film that’s really well done–Jonas tries to share the sensation of sledding with her, and the idea is filled with such joy and exhilaration that it isn’t any wonder that she’s later open to hearing what he has to say.
  • The story’s also tweaked and modernized, which works for the most part. Asher now has a different calling, which conveniently adds a personal nature to conflict; there’s a real effort made to create dynamic action and movement; pills have turned into injections, which are a nice metaphor for the invasive nature of the drug; and best of all, Jonas’ relationships with the Giver, with his sister, with his friends, and with Gabriel have more warmth and poignancy than they do in the book. With the great Meryl Streep in your film, you’ve also got to make use of her time, and having an antagonist helped to drive the narrative.
  • There were two changes that could have been handled better, however: the truth of Rosemary’s identity is related at an inopportune time so it felt much too rushed (I reread the book the night before I saw the film, and that moment when you find out who she really is still gets to me),  and Jonas’ father is not as nurturing as he is in the book. I think the latter is a regrettable (if maybe understandable) thing to lose, as then you lost the contrast with Jonas’ utter shock and horror once he realized his father was not what he seemed. That’s a pivotal moment in any kid’s life, and it had a huge impact in the book.
  • There are also scenes at the end which felt a little tacked on. I was on board with most of it (hey, you’ve got to add some action) even though it eventually got a little messy, but I am SERIOUSLY annoyed by one scene–you’ll know it as soon as you see it. View Spoiler » Such an easy way to fix it, too.

the giver movieHowever, the performances were very strong. Meryl Streep’s and Jeff Bridges’ and Odeya Rush’s roles were expanded from the book in a meaningful way, and the actors inhabited their roles comfortably. You could see the pain of the weight of knowledge in Jeff Bridges’ face, and I cannot say enough about how Brenton Thwaites is perfectly cast for Jonas’ role. His openness and sincerity was perfect for this character, and those tricky memory transfer scenes were infused with a sense of wonder, while they could have felt very forced.

Other notes: the directing was serviceable, but occasionally ham-handed (fast slow-mo, GO AWAY); the music was lovely; I liked the Twilight Zone-esque palette and feel of the Community, as well as the sets and skillful lighting (so important in black and white); and the script was quite good, particularly in the ways it expanded the story and in showing us character. However, Jonas’ voice over narration, while an understandable choice for a story with a great many details to explain, is a bit of an info-dump in the beginning. Before we’ve had a chance to even explore this world, we’re told everything about it, and the narration answers questions we haven’t even asked yet. Does this move the story along pacing-wise? Sure, and it’s a stylistic choice that was certainly successful in conveying information. But there is a loss of discovery and subtlety with that choice, and I think a few tweaks along with less gimmicky directing/editing could have made this film adhere a little more closely to the muted, compelling feeling invoked by the book.

taylor swift the giverStill, in some ways the film really took the time to deepen certain aspects of the book, and this was clearly a project made with a lot of thought and passion. At the screening event that I was invited to, the red carpet interviews and premiere introductions were live-streamed for audiences across the country, and the featurettes were surprisingly interesting. I loved Meryl Streep (of course) and Lois Lowry, who said she was inspired to write this story because her father was ill and beginning to forget who everyone was. She said that while that part of it was sad, she also saw a certain peace in him because of that, and started to wonder what it would be like if you could choose to forget. (Here she is discussing her feelings about the adaptation.) I was also moved when Jeff Bridges broke down when he talked about how difficult it was for him to be there, because he had just heard about his friend Robin Williams’ passing. He said that Robin would’ve been the first person who would want the party to go on, though, a sentiment that was echoed by Harvey Weinstein, who introduced the film.

I have to take a side note here and say that Taylor Swift was STUNNING on the red carpet in her beautiful dress and heels. After hearing her thoughtful answers to the themes in both the book and the film, I really wish we had seen more of her in the movie, too. It should be interesting to see if she pursues other acting jobs in the future, although what she’s helped do for The Giver is already a pretty big deal.

While I rather wish the film had attempted to stay a little truer to the tone of the book, I do agree with Lois Lowry’s statement that it stays true to its spirit. It doesn’t take the easy way out with the majority of the plot, and in many ways it expanded upon the themes and ideals present in the original story. The Giver came out in 1994, and Jeff Bridges first approached Lois Lowry about the possibility of a movie in 1996. It took 18 years to bring this project to the screen, and I have no doubt that the changes the filmmakers made to the story helped to make that possible. And as always, wouldn’t it be great if more kids and adults felt compelled to read the book because of the film?

Wendy signature teal



Have you read the book, or are you planning on seeing the movie? It’s a pretty solid film, and if you’re curious, I’d certainly recommend it. Mr. Darling the YA Guinea Pig liked it a lot, and found that it was easy to follow and fun to watch.

My thanks to Walden Media and The Weinstein Company for the opportunity to see the film! Photographs are courtesy of the studio and The American Library Association.


96 Responses to “The Giver: film review”

  1. Sandy

    I have decided not to see the movie in the theater and have decided that either I will rent it when it comes out or just buy it. I know that I will slaughter it to death watching it and I will probably ruin my husbands entertainment that evening by telling him everything they did wrong with the film instead of just enjoying what parts I can. I have loved The Giver since reading it in college years ago and I have just recently reread it with a friend on the internet so we could relive the experience. I know there will be positive things in the film and I will probably want to watch it a second time so renting/purchasing it will be safer for me and everyone involved.

  2. Jocelyne

    I have read the book (mandatory in my elementary school curriculum) and I was skeptical when I heard it was being turned into a movie. I am curious though… and if Lois Lowry and you say that the movie stays true to the spirit of the book and is worth watching, then I will go and see for myself.

  3. Sarah P.

    I haven’t read The Giver yet so I don’t think I’ll be bothered by the changes. I’m glad that even though many changes were made, you still enjoyed knowing that you’ve read the book. I might be reading this soon so I can watch the movie. Or maybe I’ll see the movie first and see where that will take me. Lovely review, Wendy! (:
    Sarah P. recently posted…Review: Words and their Meanings by Kate Bassett

  4. Danielle Binks

    Yay! So glad to hear Brenton Thwaites is amazing – he’s one of my favourite Australian actors, after he appeared in a great show called ‘SLiDE’ and I had such high hopes for him with this film. Can’t wait to see it now – great review!
    Danielle Binks recently posted…A to Z of YA

  5. Victoria T

    I don’t remember ever reading this book as a kid… Everyone talks about it and how it has taken so long to become a movie but I just don’t remember. I remember reading Gathering Blue but not The Giver. I’ll have to pick it up before I watch the movie, even though I know the book is VERY different :)

  6. Cam

    I’m glad to see a review of the movie by someone who’s really read the book and who seems to have loved it too. I wasn’t so sure I wanted to see the movie after hearing about the changes although I did read in an interview that the author did approve of all of them. Having said that, I don’t feel any real urgency to watch the movie even if it’s one of my favorite books. This sense of non-excitement probably has more to do with my being a little tired of the entire dystopian teenage movie trend that I’m hoping would end already. I’ll end up watching it, but I’m not running to the cinema.

  7. Elizabeth Bevins

    Hummm…I think I will pass on the movie. I’ve such vivid images in my own mind and feel such a connection with the characters I’d rather keep it pure. I loved the innocence conveyed in the book.

  8. Annie

    I’ve seen a lot of criticism lately of the changes made in the transition from book to movie, so it’s nice to see the more positive side of it. I haven’t seen it yet, and while I’m a bit skeptical, I’m hoping for the best. I can be a bit of a purist at times when it comes to these things, but I also understand that books and movies are completely different mediums and as such, you can’t tell a story the same way on both. Hopefully it’s better than some recent-ish YA adaptations (Eragon, Percy Jackson)…
    Annie recently posted…18 Thoughts and Reactions to Guardians of the Galaxy

  9. Thomas

    Love this review! I always appreciate how the writers on TMG bring nuance into their critiques, and you do a wonderful job of balancing the pros and the cons of the movie, especially the changes they made from the original book. I was curious about how they were going to adapt certain things (like the community itself, certain relationships, etc.) and it seems like they did a decent job – I guess what’s most important is that they stayed true to the book’s spirit. I don’t think I’ll see the film with how busy I am, but it’s good to know that it was not a complete mess.
    Thomas recently posted…Why Gender Roles Start in the Womb

  10. Precy Larkins

    I’m not particularly picky with films, and any movie adaptations of YA books I’d happily go see. Just because. :) So I’m going to see this even if the movie doesn’t follow the book plot to a T.

  11. Valerie

    I’m actually going to see this soon, but since I read this in 8th grade, I don’t remember much of what happened. All I remember is that the main character was much younger than in the movie. And also I don’t remember a love interest? Haha. I think the movie is going to surprise a ton!
    Valerie recently posted…Top Ten Tuesday #22

  12. Christina R.

    It seems like the changes they made in the movie are well thought out, and improve the storyline.

    I haven’t read the book, but I do like why they didn’t remain completely faithful to the book.

    Lovely review :)

  13. Sara

    Thanks for the review! I’ll admit, as much as I love books, the thought of a bunch of movie execs mucking up the source material has never really stopped me from wanting to see a film adaptation of any book I’ve read. Maybe I’m just a sucker for seeing the characters as actual people, but even if I’m cringing at what they’ve done to the plot or completely forgotten, I’ll still fork over my cash for a theatre seat and be entertained by it.

    That being said, it’s nice to know that nothing TOO drastic seems to have happened with The Giver. I honestly can’t remember much about the novel, since I read it so long ago (definitely due for a reread before I see the movie), but I DO remember that it was the first novel that I really remember reading and enjoying. I was all askance at the fact that it was assigned reading for school, but I found myself liking it against my better judgement, and lo and behold, I learned that reading was A Fun Thing To Do.

  14. Riley Redgate

    What a thorough review! I might just have to see this. At first, when I heard they were adapting this, I balked at the idea because I love the short and sweet simplicity of the original book — and I assumed by inflating it to feature-length they’d lose some of the almost fable-like feel of the book. But I’ve heard good things from a lot of people, and the whole idea of color has such great potential in a visual medium… hmmm.

    Also, it’s wonderful to read both this and your review of If I Stay. My favorite movie reviewers aren’t exactly YA buffs, hehe. The opinion of somebody familiar with the original books is pretty invaluable, imo.

  15. Liv_The Absent Historian

    I had neither heard of the book or the film, but there seems to be lots of great looking films coming out at the moment, so if I get to see any, I am quite torn in what I will go and see. I might have to check out the book, although it does sound like the two differentiate a lot. Although sometimes, I think when you watch a film which is slightly different to the book, it can make it more refreshing and exciting so every single event is not expected!
    Great review, Wendy!
    Liv_The Absent Historian recently posted…Series Review (1-3): Morganville Vampires

    • Wendy Darling

      Oh man. IF I STAY is wonderful, so very very wonderful, and a beautiful adaptation of Gayle Forman’s novel. THE GIVER is a lot of fun, too–I guess it just depends on whether you’re in the mood to laugh/cry or for something more serious in tone with more action? I hope you’ll see them both eventually! It’s been a good year for YA/MG film adaptations. Um, VAMPIRE ACADEMY aside.

      And yes, you make such a good point about changes/additions making films exciting! I felt that way when I saw the scene that the filmmakers added, in which Jonas shows Fiona what it feels like to go sledding. It was unexpected, and really fun.

  16. rana

    looks interesting, I have bought the book recently and now I cant wait till I read it.

  17. Melanie (YA Midnight Reads)

    OMG i cannot believe that this movie is already out! I definitely need to go and watch this sometime soon–though I should probably get to the book first as I hate watching movies before the book.

    And yes, Taylor Swift looks lovely!

    • Wendy Darling

      I know, it kind of sneaked up on us, huh? It’s all about IF I STAY everywhere I look, both online and on TV and in a zillion billboards and ads around the city. I’m very, very happy for IIS and it totally deserves the attention and praise, but I’m kind of sad that THE GIVER is sort of being lost in the shuffle. The timing of the release dates didn’t help, but maybe people will catch it on DVD.

  18. starryeyedjen

    I only just listened to the audiobook for the first time in hopes of seeing the film soon and comparing the two. I’m already iffy about the changes in the adaptation, but I’m still willing to give it a chance because I understand that there will never be a true adaptation thanks to artistic license. Glad to hear that the spirit of the book is still intact, though.
    starryeyedjen recently posted…The Weekend Update – 8.16.14

    • Wendy Darling

      In the right hands, I think seeing how filmmakers interpret a story can be a really rewarding experience as long as they don’t totally butcher a story or lose its major themes and emotional impact. I’ll be on the lookout to see what you think of this, Jen!

  19. Rachel

    What an awesome event, Wendy! I haven’t read the book, but that may work in my favor seeing as they made changes to it. Although if they kept to the spirit of the book they may not have been disappointing anyhow. Great post here! We’ll see if I can remove my nose from a book long enough to go see this! Lol! :)
    Rachel recently posted…Showcase Sunday #57

    • Wendy Darling

      Yeah, I don’t think it’s really necessary to read the book before seeing the film. I mean, I’m obviously always a champion of reading books, but in this case I think they really are both great separately, with their own strengths and identities. Hope you like the film when you get to it, Rachel!

  20. Hilary

    I’m usually all keeping the film faithful to the book. If you have it as a film adaptation of a book, you should most definitely keep it relatively similar to the book. However, I understand that directors and producers hold creative control once the film is in production and that they have every right to change or keep details of the book. I’m okay with a few changes as long as I can still recognize the book in spirit.
    I read The Giver a looooooong time ago that I really can’t remember what it’s about. But hearing your thoughts on the film and your break-down on the changes has me scouring my shelves for my book so that I can read it before I watch the film.
    Thanks Wendy!
    Hilary recently posted…We Were Liars-E. Lockhart

    • Wendy Darling

      Movies and books are such different mediums that I think changes have to happen in order to make them appealing, but keeping the spirit/ideals intact are definitely important. Most of the changes did not have a detrimental impact on the narrative and actually significantly added to making the transition work, in my opinion. I hope you feel the same way! It’s sometimes tricky to reread just before seeing a movie, but in this case, it totally worked for me. I felt like I could appreciate what the filmmakers did with the material.

  21. Jeann @ Happy Indulgence

    This is one of the movies I am really looking forward to, so I really appreciated your breakdown! While there seems to be a few major changes, most notably his age, I can see how it added to the film in a way and worked well on the big screen. Wow, I had no idea Taylor Swift was in it and that sounds awesome! How awesome you were at the premiere as well. Thanks for the review Wendy, I can’t wait for the film because the book is one of my all time favourites.
    Jeann @ Happy Indulgence recently posted…Read Play Blog #2 – Favourite Gaming Genre

    • Wendy Darling

      Yeah, I’m surprised by the amount of horror expressed over aging these characters up by those who had only seen the trailer awhile back–for me, it definitely helped to make the story more believable, and I’m glad to hear you’re looking forward to the film!

      I actually had forgotten that TSwift was cast in this, too. When she showed up on the red carpet, I thought, “hmmm” and then vaguely remembered hearing the casting announcement that she was in a somewhat secret role. I knew immediately she had to be Rosemary, though, and I think it was the perfect choice. Wish we’d had a bit more time with her, though.

      And I wasn’t at the actual premiere in New York! Just in an LA theater watching the whole thing, along with hundreds/thousands of others across the country. :)

  22. Kristen@My Friends Are Fiction

    Taylor Swift looks so beautiful in that picture (well, she tends to always look beautiful). I read The Giver many years ago and have been meaning to make some time to reread it. I’m glad that overall you thought the film stayed true to the spirit and that the performances were strong. I’m sure I’ll be seeing this one if not at the theater than when it’s on DVD. Thank you for the wonderful review.
    Kristen@My Friends Are Fiction recently posted…Stacking the Shelves

    • Wendy Darling

      I am such a girly girl and fell totally, completely in love at how she handled herself in that interview, as well as with her beautiful clothes, styling, and demeanor. She was really lovely, and such a great ambassador for both the book and the film.

      Hope you enjoy the film and revisiting the book, Kristen!

  23. Faye D'Social Potato (@kawaiileena)

    This movie review actually makes me pretty happy, Wendy! I think something like The Giver is hard to adapt to screen if you want to play your cards faithfully, so I don’t mind the changes or modernization or whatever. And you’re right, it wouldn’t make sense for an 11 year old to go through everything you’ve mentioned. I mean, I was eleven once upon a time, and I was far from mature. My brother was eleven 9 years ago, and I remember him being a twat. Haha. I’m psyched to watch this in the theatre tomorrow ! Usually the Philippines show movies ahead or at the same time as the US, so no problems getting there!
    Faye D’Social Potato (@kawaiileena) recently posted…ARC Review: Girl From the Well by Rin Chupeco + Asian Horror Recommendations

    • Wendy Darling

      I don’t mind the modernization, either–I think it was actually really smart of the filmmakers to not be so faithful to the book, that’s where I feel some adaptations have not been as personally wonderful to me, even those that have been financially successful. This one lives and breathes on its own.

      And hah, I don’t think many 11-year-olds could do what book Jonas did. Possible to accept in a book, but the thought of watching it on a big screen raises a lot more doubts. Let me know what you think of the film!

  24. Zoe @ The Infinite To-Read Shelf

    YES! You have no idea how relieved I am to hear this Wendy! :D The Giver is one of my all-time favorite books and really holds a special place in my heart because it was one of the reasons I actually started to blog / review. To say I was skeptical and concerned about the movie from the trailers and teasers I’ve seen is a complete understatement, so this review has definitely calmed and reassured me quite a bit! :D

    Of course with Meryl and Jeff in the cast, I was assured that at the very least the acting would be good, but it sounds like they really gave this performance their all, which I am so glad to hear. I was a bit curious as to how Brenton and Odyea were going to perform, but it sounds as if they did wonderfully, which really makes me happy too.

    I think that even though there were changes made, it seems all those changes were made to better the movie and it sounds like they did that pretty well overall. I’m usually not too happy about movie adaptions having significant changes from the book, but it sounds as though I probably won’t have a problem with it here since, like you and Lowry noted, the overall mood matches the book.

    Thank you so much for taking the time to post this Wendy! You’ve really reassured me about the quality of the film and have gotten me so much more excited to see it than I previously was!
    Zoe @ The Infinite To-Read Shelf recently posted…The Girl With All the Gifts

    • Wendy Darling

      Hooray! I’m glad I’ve helped to alleviate your worry. It’s always scary when someone adapts a book you really love, and it’s awesome to hear THE GIVER partly inspired you to begin blogging. I’m very curious what you’ll think of this now, please do come back and let me know if you remember once you’ve seen it!

      Brenton is fantastic–after seeing his performance, I really cannot imagine any other actor in that role. Odeya is lovely, too–she doesn’t have as much to do, obviously, though her character is built up more than it is in the book. I’m wondering what book fans will think of the romance–I really liked how they handled it, but I’m not sure how others will feel.

      And yes, most of the changes definitely felt like they were well thought out, even the ones I didn’t necessarily agree with. Well, except for the one that annoyed me, but you’ll see what I mean when you get there, hah.

      You’re very welcome, too! Thank YOU for letting me know the review was useful, it’s helpful to us as we think about whether we want to cover certain films or features for the blog in the future.

  25. Kris

    Okay, I hadn’t been planning on seeing the film because I really love The Giver and was scared to see it adapted to the big screen, but it sounds like they’ve done a pretty good job with this. I’ll have to check it out! Lovely review, Wendy. You have me sold on this :)
    Kris recently posted…Review: The Mime by Tony Profumo

    • Wendy Darling

      Oh good, I’m always pleased when I can sell a book or film! Hee hee. I’m glad I’ve persuaded you to give this one a chance, Kris.

  26. Jackie

    I’m glad to see others here who weren’t overly impressed with the book. I read it for the first time recently, and like Amanda, I had a hard time believing someone as young as Jonas would be able to comprehend such complex concepts. It also seemed like too much time was spent building the world versus the actual receiving. (Though I think, too, that the prose was just a little too sparse for my taste. I was hardly affected at all by the battlefield scene, or even the Christmas scene.)

    I agree with Jessica. Based on what you’ve what you’ve said about he changes they made, it sounds like this may be one of those exceptionally rare times when I like the movie better than the book.

    PS: I’m apologize if this too spoilerish, but I’m curious to see if anyone else was as confused by the revelation of Rosemary’s identity as I was. It doesn’t make sense to me that the elders would have chosen her as Receiver. Or, I guess more accurately, it doesn’t make sense to me that, given the relationship the Giver and Rosemary already had, they wouldn’t have foreseen difficulties. Especially since receiving memories only deepens the bond.

    • Wendy Darling

      Did you read this book for the first time as an adult, Jackie? I didn’t question Jonas doing all this when I read it as a teenager, but I did question it as an adult. I would have preferred more emotional content and more development in certain scenes as well, even though I liked the sparse prose and felt it was well-suited to creating a mood for the story.

      The book never really makes it clear why someone is chosen as a receiver, but you bring up a good point that Rosemary’s pre-existing relationship with The Giver makes that seem like an odd choice. I never thought about that before.

      I hope you do enjoy the film more, though! It sounds like you might, as it definitely spends more time on the characters, and I thought the scenes of receiving memory were very well done.

    • Wendy Darling

      I think it’s impossible to stay 100% true to a book as well. When I think of my favorite book to film adaptations, they’ve all had to change something, and were probably much better for it. And thank you, Kimba!

    • Wendy Darling

      I have to be in the right mood for dystopian, too. There have been so many disappointing ones published in the last few years that I think a lot of readers have gotten more cautious.

  27. Michelle V. B.

    I wasn’t sure on the movie, at least based on what I saw from the trailers and etc. I loved the book, so I was afraid of having my hopes crushed.

    But now, I might give it a go. It sounds good, based on your notes, and something that I would really enjoy.


    • Wendy Darling

      We haven’t talked enough about movies to be sure, but I think you’ll like this, Michelle. I really want to hear what other people who liked the book think of the film–there were so many naysayers when the trailer first came out, but I thought the changes were overall very good, and I’d love to hear if other fans of the book feel the same way. Hope you enjoy it!

      • Michelle V. B.

        I’ll plan to watch it soon, and then we can pow-wow! You’re right; we’ve never spoken about movies before, but it is something we could talk about!

  28. Carina Olsen

    Amazing review Wendy :D I’m glad you enjoyed this movie; despite not fully loving it. <3 I have yet to read this book.. I'm just unsure about it :p but I am curious about this movie. And ohh. What you say about the aging? I'm glad they made him older in the movie. Sounded weird, lol :D Thank you for sharing sweetie. <3 And ack. I adore Taylor Swift. I might see this movie just for her, hih :)
    Carina Olsen recently posted…Review: The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma

    • Wendy Darling

      I liked it very much! Solid 4 out of 5 stars from me.

      I’m glad you like that they’ve made Jonas older, that totally worked for me. It also helps with the romance, which I’m sure you will be a fan of. ;)

  29. Layla

    My interest is piqued. I went to the movies a few days ago and the trailer for The Giver came on – your review makes me want to see it all the more. So the book is on my list of things to re-read in the near future. Anyway, because I haven’t read it since I was 11, many of the plot elements are slightly foggy; the only things I remember are Jonas taking the baby and Jonas’s “stirrings” (which at the time marked The Giver as inordinately sinful to me). This is to say: I’m interested in seeing what’s changed and how for the movie (and I love how you’ve articulated that here) but I’m also curious about what a Giver movie looks like after Teenage Dystopia: The Movie is a thing that’s already happened (that is to say, what does a post-Hunger Games or -Divergent or -whatever movie look like? You know?)

    Also, as a side-note, Taylor Swift looks lovely in that picture and I want to steal her dress. I didn’t realize she was in this; added incentive!
    Layla recently posted…The Giver: film review

    • Wendy Darling

      I hadn’t reread the book for years until the night before the film, and though like you, I didn’t remember anything other than a couple of plot points, I was surprised to find how familiar the tone of the book felt, and how memories of the feeling I had over certain pivotal scenes came back to me as I rediscovered the story. I was relieved to find I still liked the novel, though as an adult I can see some of its flaws as well.

      I think the post-DIVERGENT feel mostly comes in how they chose to shoot that trailer, as the film would have been completed before DIVERGENT came out. I don’t think it’s a mistake that the poster has a somewhat similar feel to the DIVERGENT poster either, though with much less effectiveness.

      I am very interested in hearing your thoughts on the film, Layla. And yesss, Taylor was so lovely in her red carpet interview, and on that READ poster! The photos from the premiere that I linked don’t even do that dress justice, you had to see the material moving to appreciate how beautifully cut it was, as well as the quality of the fabric. So simple, but so stunning. She looks very different in the movie, though, and while I’m glad they didn’t spend too much time with her character simply because she’s a celebrity, I do wish they’d utilized her a tiny bit more. Both because I like her now, and because Rosemary’s story is so poignant.

  30. A Canadian Girl

    Way back in Grade 6, I read The Giver … and remember not liking it. I also watched the trailer and didn’t really feel a strong desire to watch the movie (other than to see Meryl Streep). Yours and Mr. Darling’s positive reaction to this one now has me at least curious to give this one a try and since I actually don’t remember much about the book now, I wouldn’t be surprised if I liked this one too, Wendy.
    A Canadian Girl recently posted…Mini Reviews: The Year of Shadows by Claire Legrand and Guitar Notes by Mary Amato

    • Wendy Darling

      Maybe worth catching on DVD or cable when the time comes? I think people who didn’t necessarily care for the book might still enjoy the film, just depends on your taste. I hope it’s to your liking when you get to it!

  31. Keertana @ Ivy Book Bindings

    I think it’s been at least seven years since I read THE GIVER and while I still consider it to be an entrance into dystopian fiction for both myself and many other readers, I lack any desire to see this film. I am so glad, though, Wendy that it captures the spirit of the novel and the cast is superb so the performances had to have shone. Plus, it’s always a nice surprise to hear that an adaption is actually decent opposed to dissolving into a sea of terror and misinformation. As always, loving these reviews–you’re marvelous, dear.
    Keertana @ Ivy Book Bindings recently posted…Review: Boomerang by Noelle August

    • Wendy Darling

      I enjoyed it, but I know other readers will be resistant to it, which is totally fine. It’s impossible to adapt books in a way that’s pleasing to all the fans, and their marketing materials and some of the film’s stylistic choices went in a different direction than some readers will be comfortable with. Some of those choices will probably appeal to a broader audience than readers, though–it’s tricky with a book with such a distinct style. I’m thinking of projects like NEVER LET ME GO, for example–I thought that film really did a beautiful job of creating an atmosphere that was so unusual for a dystopian world, but of course, that’s an adult arthouse film that had very modest expectations and box office return. Much harder to bank on film for younger audiences with that sort of style.

    • Wendy Darling

      I didn’t hear Lois speak in person, but she really is so fascinating to listen to in interviews. A lot of author featurettes really bore me (sorry, I probably shouldn’t say that), but every time she spoke, she always said something interesting and thought-provoking. The story about her father was particularly touching.

      I look forward to hearing what you think of the film, Jen!

  32. Rebecca

    I always love your film reviews, and I’m glad you had such a positive response to this movie! It’s been about 10 years since I read The Giver, and I’ve been meaning to reread it before seeing the movie. But maybe I’ll just see the movie first so I’m not nitpicking at all the differences :)

    Also, I love how you use Mr. Darling as the YA Guinea Pig! I do the same to my fiance, and he’s actually liked some of them enough (like the Hunger Games movies) to read the books.

    • Wendy Darling

      Aw, thank you, Rebecca! Films are fun to review, and it’s a lot faster to finish a movie than to finish a book, hah.

      I wasn’t sure if I should reread the book immediately before seeing the film either, but in this case it was okay since I ended up applauding most of the changes. I hope you have a positive response to the movie, too! I’m finding it hard to predict how people will react, both fans of the book and non-fans.

      And hah, yes–I always quiz him to see if movies are doing their job in explaining the story and such to someone who’s not familiar with it, and to see if it works for someone who isn’t much of a YA reader. I love that your fiance has read THG! What else has he read? Mr. Darling read the first HG book but not much else, though 50 pages into it, he turned to me and said, “This is already way better than the movie.” (Although he liked that well enough, too.)

      • Rebecca

        Yeah, I find it’s helpful to read a review from someone who’s not only evaluating the film but is also considering how fans of the book will react to the adaptation. So I really appreciate your takes on all the recent YA adaptations!

        My fiance isn’t much of a reader, so I was pretty surprised when he said he wanted to read THG! We started reading it aloud together but he ended up finishing the series on audiobook, which was fine with me because I had (and still have) a TBR pile of doom. But he liked the Hunger Games books a lot, so I suggested he try the Legend series, and he really enjoyed that as well. He hasn’t read/listened to anything since he finished Champion a couple months ago, but I was just happy the audiobooks worked for him and that I was able to share my love of those series.

        • Wendy Darling

          That’s partly why I wanted to start covering films on the site–mainstream movie reviews of YA adaptations weren’t really telling me what I needed to know, so I figured we had something we could add to the conversation. I’m glad you’re finding the reviews helpful, and I appreciate the feedback, too!

          So, so awesome that your fiance has read THG and the Legend series. I get really excited when Mr. Darling is amendable to reading things I like, too–I pointed out recently that the majority of the books and films and music and such he (and most men) consumes are created by or about white straight men, and I think reading different perspectives (age, race, gender, sex, income levels, etc) are such a big part of how we develop empathy. And not to generalize, but also a reason, perhaps, why so many of my gay friends are more empathetic than the majority of straight men I know, they are open to entertainment create by women as well. You learn so much when you put yourself in someone else’s shoes, even if it’s just for a few hours.

          • Rebecca

            I’ve pretty much decided not to take mainstream reviews as the “final say” on YA adaptations because, like you said, they don’t really tell me what I want/need to know. I actually read one in my local paper the other day that made a comment about how The Giver is “another depressing YA movie” or something like that, and that really put me off. It almost seemed like the critic was disregarding it because it’s a YA dystopian adaptation. Although he (at least, I think the reviewer was a male) did make some of the same points you did as far as the rushed scenes and the fast slow-mo. Those reviews are a mixed bag, I guess.

            You make an interesting point regarding the empathy thing. I hadn’t thought about that before, but I can totally see what you mean when I look at my own straight, male friends, who are not readers. I don’t want to generalize either, but I feel that they don’t have quite the same level of empathy as some of the people I know (male and female) who do read. And I find it interesting that one of them read and liked the Harry Potter series but hasn’t read anything since that, and I wonder if it’s because of the idea that YA is mostly created by women and aimed at girls.

            • Wendy Darling

              I think a lot of critics do lump YA adaptations together–they are influenced by the dumb trend articles that are often ill-informed or don’t look at the whole picture. It’s not just critics, either–it’s also armchair amateur industry watchers/readers who parrot opinions they’ve read or don’t have any real understanding of what it takes to get a movie made or how to read between the lines, but talk about their opinions as if they were fact, and then misinformation spreads from there. We went into this in depth on our Vampire Academy film review and comments, and how frustrating this can be. Just as with books, my own policy is it’s best to keep an open mind and to figure out whose opinions I really want to weigh in, while remembering I still may disagree.

              And it’s funny you said that re: empathy and reading–I reblogged a jpg on Tumblr that said something to that effect:

              Thanks for the chat, Rebecca!

              • Rebecca

                Thank you as well, Wendy! It was a pleasure discussing this with you :)

  33. Brenda

    I haven’t read this book yet, although happy to hear that the author was pleased with how it stayed true to the spirit of the book. I’m always curious about how authors feel about the adaptations.

    • Wendy Darling

      I’m always faintly cynical about author statements when the films come out, because obviously they have a vested interest in the film’s success (if not bonuses, than future film adaptations and so on), and if the studio is good, they’ve talked to the author about how to handle media questions regardless of how they really feel about the adaptation. I’ve studied and coached a lot of talent for interviews, however, and I think Lois Lowry was sincere in her statement about the film being true to the book’s spirit–and I agree with it, too.

  34. Pili

    I haven’t read the Giver myself, and I keep realizing that I’ve missed quite a few interesting books along the way! I’d probably just see the movie once it comes on DVD or something, once I’ve managed to read the book! I still have so many books I want to watch in the cinemas, and who knows when this one will release here in Spain!
    Great to hear that despite a few “ugh” changes, the movie was good enough on its own and decently true to the book! And glad that Mr Darling also enjoyed the movie!
    Pili recently posted…First Chapter, First Paragraph #7: First World Problems by LeighAnn Kopans!!

    • Wendy Darling

      There will never be enough time to read all the books and watch all the movies! It’s a shame you don’t have a release date yet in Spain, but hopefully that’ll pop up soon. I don’t know how well it’ll do here, though–I feel like based on the merits of the film, it’s good, but TWC has not spent a lot of money on it. Unlike IF I STAY, which is EVERYWHERE, and that releases a week later.

      I liked the movie. It’s not perfect, but overall I thought it was very good.

    • Wendy Darling

      Omg, Bethany. I’ve never thought one way or the other about Taylor Swift (I can only recognize one of her songs, since I don’t listen to the radio anymore), and that red carpet interview was the first time I’d ever seen her speak. She was GORGEOUS. I couldn’t stop staring at her! The dress was insanely beautiful, too–the photographs don’t even do it justice, the way it moved and the material were captured much more appealingly on video. She had such intelligent, sincere answers to the questions she was asked about the book and the film as well. I like her at lot after seeing how she conducted herself.

      Now I gotta look for this Fallon interview, too. While she was talking, I kept poking Mr. Darling and saying, “I can’t believe how beautiful she is! Look at that dress! Her hair! The shoes!” etc, etc. like a crazy person.

      • bethany

        Oh man! I really like her — though I get a lot of teasing for it :) Waitaminute, did you jet off to NY for the event?!

        Two videos from the interview portion:

        I think she has a new album or something in the works because she’s been doing more press. But I LOVE that you like her more now! Because it’s always nice to find out the celebrities you like are actually nice/cool/beautiful in real life :)
        bethany recently posted…Stitch Fix #4 and #5 {catch-up}

        • Wendy Darling

          Ooo, thank you, I will have to watch those this weekend! I kind of have a girl crush on her now, she’s so PRETTY. And I liked her interviews for THE GIVER so much.

          And no, if I’d been in New York you would have seen a bunch of food photos, obviously! The red carpet interviews were part of the stuff that was live-streamed, so I watched it from a comfortable seat in an LA theater. She talked about some Yahoo media event she was doing soon, during which she was going to talk about…something. Hah, sorry not to have more details.

          And don’t let anyone make you feel bad for liking something! Especially something so lovely. :) Now I wanna listen to some of her music, hopefully that doesn’t turn me off. The one song I kind of know is cute.

          • bethany

            Ah that makes more sense! You’re totally right–if you had been in NY you probably would have posted a lot more about it :D

            And the live stream is today! I can’t watch (working life…) but am curious what she’s going to reveal. Am assuming new music of some kind, because it’s been a while and she has a slew of promo activities coming up, so 1+1=…

            If you listen to her music, would be curious to hear what you think/what you like! I’m not confident that similar taste in books (YA) would translate into similar tastes in music — but who knows…
            bethany recently posted…Stitch Fix #4 and #5 {catch-up}

            • Wendy Darling

              Yeah, music is an entirely different animal. I’ll let you know how my Taylor experiment fares–I’m already so enamored of her as a public figure, hah.

              And while I wasn’t at this particular event, I have worked a premiere/red carpet at the Ziegfield, and it is BEAUTIFUL. Must’ve been a great screening.

  35. bethany

    This has truly been the year of YA on the big screen, which is so exciting!

    Could tell some of the changes from just the trailers and such, but you’re so right in that many made sense, and may have even been necessary to get to production.
    bethany recently posted…Stitch Fix #4 and #5 {catch-up}

    • Wendy Darling

      It really has! Other than VAMPIRE ACADEMY (let us not speak of that any longer), it’s been a really good year for YA adaptations.

      I’m glad you’re keeping an open mind about the changes. I’m not someone who feels like every adaptation can or should stay entirely faithful to a book–I’ve been saying forever, like Lois with this book, that the spirit of the source material is much more important. Although to be fair, I would probably be a lot more indignant over books that I was really, really crazy about, and depending on vastly different the changes were. Still, I don’t think the early outrage I saw online was entirely fair, given that the majority of it took place months ago when the trailer was released, well before anyone had had a chance to actually see the film.

      I’m all for films that encourage people to read and that do credit to YA anyway. And I think, regardless of changes and stylistic things I may not have loved, that this one does that.

      • bethany

        People really flipped out over the trailer — but you’re right… if this was my FAVORIT-EST BOOK EVER I probably would feel a little more upset, but the more I learn about the crazy world of film adaptations and hear about budgets and how rare it is that authors really get a say in the screenplay and/or production, it’s just really really cool to see SOMEONE’s interpretation on screen, and that it drives more people to that specific book, and hopefully others.
        bethany recently posted…Stitch Fix #4 and #5 {catch-up}

        • Wendy Darling

          I agree with that last statement completely–as long as they haven’t horribly screwed up a book, I’m pretty open to seeing how someone else interprets a story.

          It’s fascinating how upset people can get before they’ve seen a film, though. I understand being nervous or even turned off by early material, but sometimes the level of outrage is surprising. I tend to only listen to outrage if it’s backed up by solid facts, experience, etc, and even then everyone’s experience will be different.

  36. Nikki

    This is one of those times that I’ll watch the movie over reading the book. I’ve tried to start the Giver many times and just could never get into it. But with all the positive things I’ve heard, I know I’ve got to be missing out on something.

    • Wendy Darling

      The style definitely isn’t for everybody–I think sometimes people might also get thrown off because some are under the impression it’s a YA book, but it’s actually middle grade. I bet people who didn’t necessarily connect with the book would still enjoy the movie, though.

  37. Rachel @ A Perfection Called Books

    Phew! It seems that you have mostly positive thoughts on this movie! I read the book and can’t say I liked it very much. Then again, I was forced to read it in 6th grade so maybe that played a part. The movie sounds good though and has me itching to reread the book! Lovely film review, I can’t wait to see this! The cast seems great as well :)
    Rachel @ A Perfection Called Books recently posted…ARC Review ~ Heir of Fire by Sarah J Maas

    • Wendy Darling

      Definitely mostly positive! I had some criticisms, but for the most part the film is very good. If you didn’t like the book, I think you’ll still like the movie.

      And yes, the performances were terrific. Obviously Meryl and Jeff were amazing, and I now can’t imagine anyone other than Brenton Thwaites in this role. I also liked the girl who played his sister Lily, as well as Odeya Rush, who played his friend/romantic interest Fiona.

      Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

  38. Amanda

    I just picked up the book because I heard the movie was coming out soon. I honestly think I will like the film better, simply because I found it hard to believe that someone so young would make the same decisions that this boy did. It did not seem credible. However, the story was beautiful and I enjoyed reading the book. I cannot wait to head to the theater and watch the film.

    • Wendy Darling

      Ah hah. When I read the book as a teenager, I didn’t question the plausibility of an eleven-year-old doing all this, but upon rereading it as an adult, I definitely had some “hmm” moments, though it didn’t detract severely from my enjoyment of the experience. Making Jonas older totally worked for me, though, particularly with the actor that was cast. It sounds like you’re going to respond positively to the changes as well!

      The story really is beautiful. I always thought “WE CAN’T SEE COLOR” is a little extreme in its metaphor, but the film actually made that work.

      • Amanda

        I wondered about the color too! But after seeing the trailer, I think it is going to work well. It adds to the difference in the environment. Anyway, thanks for the review on the film!

    • Wendy Darling

      Yeah–while the movie does add some drama and the ending is a little too packed with action, for the most part the film doesn’t feel as fast-paced as the trailer. I think they were going for a DIVERGENT thing with the marketing, which might be appealing to general movie-goers, but certainly a bit suspicious to fans of the book.

      I’m glad to hear you’re keeping an open mind! I hope you like it, Katherine, I’m very curious to see what book lovers’ reactions will be.

  39. Jessica @ Rabid Reads

    You know . . . I think I will go see this movie. It’s probably been 15 years since I read the book, and honestly . . . I’m one of the very few people who wasn’t crazy about it. For the life of me, I cannot remember what it was, but I had read a very similar book (which in hindsight, I realize was probably written after THE GIVER) immediately prior, and I enjoyed it much more. I should probably reread THE GIVER as an adult to see if my opinion has changed, but I think I’ll wait until after the movie, b/c I don’t want to shoot myself in the foot–details, they kill me. As long as it’s been, I do remember the main reason I liked whatever that other book was more, was b/c it elicited a more emotional response. I had trouble connecting with an 11 in the context he’s put in, b/c yes, it does at times stretch the bounds of credulity, so maybe I’d have more luck with the movie.
    Jessica @ Rabid Reads recently posted…Question: Do You Read More While On Vacation?

    • Wendy Darling

      Ah, if you’re looking for more emotional content, this film certainly improves upon the book in that way. I was actually really impressed by how much thought they gave that, and in how they took the time to build Jonas’ different relationships bit by bit. Come to think of it, the pacing (until the end) was very good as well, which is no easy feat with all these moving parts.

      Now I’m curious what this other book was! I quite liked Lois Lowry’s book, though it’s was 4 star read for me rather than 5 because there are things that definitely would have made it a deeper, more complex story. I think you would like the film more, from the sound of it, though it’d be interesting to see how you felt about the book as an adult, too. I was a bit nervous rereading the book immediately beforehand, but in this case, the changes didn’t bother me.

  40. Mary @ BookSwarm

    I love this book. I actually taught it when I taught 6th grade and the kids loved it, too. I can see that, yeah, they’d have to do some tweaking to make the book come alive onscreen but I like that it says true to the spirit (and that Lois Lowry likes it!). The preview I saw makes it look a lot more action-y than I’d hoped so I was leery but it’s good to hear that it works. Except anything slow-mo. Especially fast slow-mo. Just…no.
    Mary @ BookSwarm recently posted…Speed Date with Kate: Magic Breaks by Ilona Andrews

    • Wendy Darling

      I totally understand why they added elements and scenes to make the film more dynamic. I think it still would have been possible to keep a little more of the book’s subtlety, but overall the tone the movie takes really is not as fast-paced/action-oriented as the trailer makes it appear. (Well, until you get to the end, but that’s a conversation after you’ve seen it.)

      Since you loved the book, I’d be curious to hear what you think of this.

      And ugh, the fast slow-mo here is TERRIBLE. It’s all scrambled/impressionistic-looking, and it’s used a few times. But overall, I thought it was a good film. It’ll bother people who are resistant to it going in, but it did a nice job with the material, imo.

  1. Nest by Esther Ehrlich: audiobook review

    […] “I love the way Alice Hoffman creates the most ordinary people and then turns their lives magical. . . . [Nightbird] is like reentering a wonderful dream that you vaguely remember.” —Lois Lowry, two-time Newbery Medal–winning author of The Giver […]