Adapting a YA novel isn’t an easy task—getting the right mix of talent, authenticity and spirit is integral in making Katniss, Harry, Hazel Grace leap from the pages onto the screen. When done well, a film adaptation feels like the natural extension of the book—even if it’s not completely faithful to every aspect.
There’s a large spectrum of beloved YA novels and it can be argued that there’s love and a fan base no matter how small or fervent for many, some certainly stick out more amongst the others.
Lois Lowry’s The Giver is a prime example. It’s a classic YA novel, published in 1993, won the Newberry Award and taught in schools all over the country. Many of us read it at a young age—for school or for pleasure—while tucked away in our beds. Some of us, would read it later, urged by a friend who claimed it as a favorite childhood book and would end up pleased how it lived up to those expectations.
It’s easy to sink into the colorless confinement of Jonas, who lives a perfectly content life in a dystopian world where our emotions are stripped from us and our individual roles assigned. When Jonas gets his assignment working with the Giver, his transformation is compelling to behold. That sense of wonder and hope is what have kept children and adults alike reading it for over twenty years and obviously what has kept Jeff Bridges working to adapt it for eighteen.
Unfortunately, the film adaptation of The Giver has ended up being like the drugs that satiate Jonas. It leaves the viewer emotionless, despite trying its damndest to illicit emotion at every turn.
Without giving too much away, as Lowry mentioned in our interview, all the characters have been aged up—Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), Fiona (Odeya Rush) and Asher (Cameron Monaghan) are teenagers in the city grayscape eagerly anticipating their assignments while sexual tension flickers in the air. Thankfully it doesn’t nosedive into a love story but it doesn’t entirely steer clear either.
Both Thwaites and Rush are gorgeous to look at and fine as Jonas and Fiona—blankly stunning which doesn’t aid much in the later emotional development of the film. Monaghan does much more with Asher—he’s rather charming, sneery and funny yet appealingly earnest—even with his smaller screen time.
Of course, Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep are great as always. Bridges inhabits the role—making the Giver as imagined—wise, gruff, lonely, isolated yet warm. And Streep takes a role, one that was virtually nonexistent in the book, and inhabits the icy Chief Elder like a second skin. Their scenes together are the best of the film. It’s a shame that the film around them isn’t better—even the scenes of Jonas receiving memories from the Giver which should be moving, feel weirdly devoid.
Reading The Giver for the first time leaves a sense of wonder, hope, curiosity for the world of that which you have experienced and the unknown. Sadly, the film manages to adapt that spirit right out. Maybe just stick with the memories of the book—they’ll serve you much better.
About the Contributor:
Kerensa Cadenas is a writer living in Los Angeles. She grew up on binge reading Sweet Valley High and watching Saved by the Bell at a very young age. Hence, she is now unable to grow out of this life-long phase. She loves terrible teen television, young adult novels and probably listens to One Direction more than she should. She also enjoys more adult things like margaritas on patios and dance parties. A Marcus Flutie/Nate Archibald man-hybrid remains her ideal.