There were countless indications that the film adaptation of â€œThe Giverâ€ would be a letdown: the constant production delays, the dumping-ground release date; the casting of Taylor Swift.
I regret to confirm, dear reader, that these indications were accurate.
Oh, sure, the cinematography is handsome, and Jeff Bridges gives good Giver in the title role, but the dialogue is painful (â€œYou canâ€™t just show me a map and then leave out the rest of the memories!â€), the music is so ambient that itâ€™s somnolent, and the special effects look like scraps tossed down from Joss Whedonâ€™s table.
But â€œThe Giverâ€â€™s biggest problem is not a technical one. It is, Iâ€™m afraid, a philosophical one. Ultimately, this â€œGiverâ€ lacks a necessary virtue of any good young adult work: courage.
It is that fundamental lack of courage that I wish to discuss for the rest of this article. By seeing what makes the â€œGiverâ€ film a failure, we can also see what makes the great young adult adaptations of our time, â€œThe Hunger Gamesâ€ and the â€œHarry Potterâ€ series, so successful.
â€œThe Giverâ€ is the story of Jonas, a young man who lives in a futuristic community where emotion has been outlawed in favor of a safe, sterile â€œSameness.â€
To his shock, Jonas is asked to be the communityâ€™s Receiver and to serve as a repository of mankindâ€™s past, in case that past is needed to make decisions in the present. The man responsible for showing him that past is (you guessed it) the Giver. As Jonas is exposed to the beauty and brutality of the past, both he and his teacher began to question the present.
Not surprisingly, Jonasâ€™s exposure to human history ultimately renders him decidedly anti-â€Sameness.â€
What is surprising, however, is how much the film dumbs down and deadens Jonasâ€™s journey into the past. As Jonas sees everything from the blooming of flowers to the horrors of the battlefield, he is equal parts exhilarated and traumatized by the past.
Or at least he is in the book.
In the film, his exhilaration registers, but not his trauma. After watching an episode from the Vietnam War, Jonas reacts with all the terror of one whoâ€™s just had a flat tire.
This scene is, unfortunately, typical of how the film treats the bookâ€™s darker material.
I am not sure whether itâ€™s due to actor Brendon Thwaites or to the folks behind the scenes, but this â€œGiverâ€ simply lacks the courage to venture into the inner darkness of Jonasâ€™s journey. Â The script tells us where he is physically, but the film rarely lets us know what troubles he is experiencing psychologically.
Compare this to the deliberate, haunting scene in â€œHarry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2â€ when Harry comes to grips with his impending death.
Better yet, compare it to the indelible moment in â€œCatching Fireâ€ where we close in on Jennifer Lawrenceâ€™s face as we process her furious grief.
Part of what makes those YA films so good is that they treat young adults like, well, young ADULTS. How do they do this?
By being honest with them. By leveling with them about the evil and despair embedded in their fictional universes.
And, most importantly, Â asking the viewer to remember that these worlds, like our real one, are both beautiful and fractured, wondrous and cursed.
â€œThe Giver,â€ by comparison, patronizes young viewers by giving them a world so wimpy that it comes off as false. Because the film does not ring brave, it does not ring true. And falsity is a flaw that no good YA movie can overcome.
In short, the makers of â€œThe Giverâ€ should have remembered the words of Flannery Oâ€™Connor, who said that, â€œFiction is about everything human and we are made out of dust, and if you scorn getting yourself dusty, then you shouldnâ€™t write.â€
Unlike its superior YA movie predecessors, â€œThe Giverâ€ is, I am sorry to say, dust-free.