Both of my children read The Giver during their middle school years, as countless others did. It is impossible to overstate the importance of Lois Lowry's award-winning dystopian novel in shaping the Young Adult literature of the last two decades and in the hearts and minds of her readers since its publication 1993. In many schools and homes The Giver is a literary rite of passage that echoes its own Ceremony of Twelves. Older kids see younger students with the book and nod at each other knowingly.
Image: David Bloomer/The Weinstein Company
The Giver is so treasured because it's a powerful, beautifully written read, to be sure. Beyond that, reading it has been a formative experience for many of its fans because it became a fast favorite with educators, as well as a controversial book occasionally the subject of bans. In classrooms, The Giver is used to teach students how to read critically, how to understand themes and societal messages in literature, and how to articulate specifically (which is actually also a theme within the book) their reactions to what they've read.
Like 1984 or Fahrenheit 451, The Giver grapples with freedom, choice, control, individuality and the burden of emotions like love and pain. Having these themes explored by a beloved character such as Jonas right when you are wondering what this grown-up world is going to be like gives the book all the more freight.
I've heard readers talk about how this book perfectly sums up or gave them insight into an amazing range of their experiences, from feeling different (or in the terms of the book "weak,") to oppression, to the stress of grades and future career tracks, to the expectations of their churches, to their parents' decisions to have them take ADHD or anti-depression medicines -- to simply being an adolescent in a complex society. Plenty of adults dive deep into The Giver as well.
So given the book's importance to so many readers, it should be exciting to see it made into a film, right? Not so fast, Receiver. The trailer for the movie version of the story, set to open in August, has met with lackluster and disappointed responses.
I feel disappointed and suspicious because the film strikes the wrong visual notes. One of the important themes of the book is that the trade-off for tamping down emotional pain is a black-and-white universe, but the movie doesn't seem to show that. Isn't a colorful world a weird directorial choice?
While I adore Meryl Streep with fire of a thousand burning banned books, I wonder too if the star power in the cast doesn't work when a beloved novel is brought to life. Jeff Bridges, Katie Holmes, Brenton Thwaites, Odeya Rush, Alexander Skarsgard, Cameron Monaghan and, wait for it, Taylor Swift, all bring with them tons of baggage and distractions that may conflict with a reader's internal portrait of the characters.
Maybe, too, we're growing burnt out by The Twilight-Hunger Games et al. The YA-to-big screen genre has become a meme with decreasing impact. This would be ironic and sad, because The Giver as a novel has been the influencer in the recent iterations of societal motifs in young adult literature, but it wasn't the first film out of the gate.
Or maybe we're bringing the lessons of the book with us as we view the trailer. We're judging it weak, imprecise, a danger to the community. Maybe with our discontent we are saying, "Thank you for your childhood, The Giver The Movie, but we will be 'releasing' you now." Lowry taught us to question authority all too well, as did our teachers about being critical readers and viewers. Disappointment comes with choice, freedom, a full range of emotional experiences and critical thinking, right? Dang it.
What do you think? If you are familiar with The Giver, were you disappointed in the trailer? Why do we hate it so much? If you haven't read the novel yet, I hope you do before you decide to see the movie. It's the first book of an important series, and I highly recommend them all. All of that said, I'm still planning on seeing it in August. Are you?
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