Sunday, September 7, 2014

Teen Books To Movies - The Giver

We went to see Jeff Bridge's movie version of The Giver, yesterday.  Or rather, I went to see it with A (age 13), and T (age 17).  All three of my teens read the short book by Lois Lowry, as part of our kick off into the new school year.

A read it one day, and liked it so well she continued on through the rest of the quartet.  T read it in two days, mainly because he didn't really get into the story until midway through.  G (age 15) never did find the story interesting, drug through it in a week, and opted not to go to the movie.

The slim, young adult novel/novella, published in 1993, revolves around a 12 year old boy, coming of age in a seemingly Utopian community, as he receives his career with the rest of his class of graduating 12 year olds.  As with The Hunger Games, Ender's Game, City of Ember, or Divergent - to name a few novels in genre, the fate, or fall of society as he knows it, sits squarely on the shoulders of the young, unprepared, and completely unsuspecting protagonist.

The movie, again like Ender's Game, bumped up the age of the main character, this time from 12 to 18, and downplayed a few of the more violent, or slightly creepy scenarios from the book (although Jeff Bridges still somehow managed to play the whitewashed scenes with a slightly pedophelic feel).  Taking advantage of the older age of the protagonist, and perhaps attempting to keep in step with the other dystopian titles already mentioned, the filmmakers expanded a simple adolescent crush from the book into puppy-love-ish  sort of romance.

The movie also borrows a villain almost straight from the pages of Divergent (Meryl Streep's character might has well have been named Jeanine) , in order to amp up the physical conflict, and seems to play more heavily on the Calvinesque tension threading through the novel, with Jeff Bridges' Giver quoting Hebrews 11:1, countered by a bitter response from Meryl Streep's Jeanine-like Head Elder, that given a choice - "people always choose wrong."

We enjoyed the first half of the movie.  It is beautifully filmed, and moves gradually from black and white into color in a way appropriate to novel.  The second half of the movie departed so completely from the original storyline though, that we lost interest.  In fact, it was boring enough to leave us wondering what we had actually enjoyed in the book in the first place.

In fairness, we were having an extremely odd movie going experience though, and it's possible that had a bearing on our feelings towards the film.  I decided to have the children read The Giver, because I knew the movie was about to come out in theaters, and I thought it would make for a fun excuse to check out the theater in our new town. 

The theater was clean, and modern, but almost completely abandoned.  We arrived a half an hour before show time, and found the parking lot vacant.  After double checking the movie was playing, we bought tickets, entered the empty theater, and sat down to wait through the ads, and then previews before the show.  A half an hour later, as the curtains opened completely, and the lights dimmed for the movie, we were still sitting alone in the theater.  It was a little unnerving to find ourselves in a private screening of the film.

Judging by the parking lot on the way out, a few other folks had straggled in to see other films during the afternoon, but even so I'd guess there were more employees in the building, than movie goers.  We won't worry about being early next time.

As to the book itself, it has often been on banned, and parent protest lists, thanks to some euthanasia, and war related violence, as well as undercurrents of mind control straying dangerously close to the occult.  I didn't find this to be the case with the first book, though I can see it increasing as I read through the second book in the series. But, according to Christianity Today, "The Giver is one of the 25 most banned or challenged books of the last decade."

Focus on the Family, however, has given the film 4 and 1/2 stars for family friendliness for teens on up, and I'd say that's about right.  There is some violence, a touch of awkward romance, no crude or profane language to speak of, but one very disturbing scene involving a baby being euthanized, that might not be too much for some.


Ticia said...

That's what I've generally heard about the movie, disappointment with it.

MaryAnne said...

I don't think I could watch a baby being euthanized.