I have to admit, I didn’t expect much of this film.
I first read Lowry’s classic novel in grade school; it has remained an enduring favorite ever since. Given that the trailers clearly revealed major changes to the main characters (fast-forwarding them from twelve to eighteen years of age) and what I assumed to be a predictable teen-romance angle, I expected to be disappointed.
Perhaps because of that, I walked away from the film surprisingly impressed.
Yes, the teen-romance angle was there — but it was handled and employed with significantly more delicacy and grace than is typical. Likewise, the up-aging of the characters was managed without significant damage to their roles in the story or their personalities.
I’m guessing that both of these were marketability decisions — it’s much harder to sell a film about pre-teens than it is to sell one about teenagers. Unfortunately, films about pre-teens, even if exceptionally good ones, are generally marketable to a narrow audience — pre-teens themselves, their parents, and a few people who are willing roll the dice on movies in general. Add the complexity of workin with a mostly-underage cast and their parents, and one can see why a production team might make such a decision.
Meanwhile, movies about teenagers, especially teenagers in the young-adult bracket, are marketable to just about everyone. Teenagers (and many pre-teens) usually don’t want to watch movies about pre-teens, whereas pre-teens are generally pretty happy to watch movies about teenagers, as are teenagers themselves and many adults. And teens (especially 18-year-olds) can be played by people in the 18-and-up bracket, who aren’t subject to all the complicated regulations that pertain to child actors (and who might not come with overwrought parents or guardians in tow).
As such, I’m willing to forgive what initially looked like a story-destroying concession to the almighty dollar*.
Both the up-aging and the romance angle manage not to destroy the story. The romance between main characters Jonas and Fiona is gently done and manages not to become Jonas’ prime mover in his ultimate decision, which means that the decision in question retains its power. Not to say that love is ever a bad reason to do anything — but sometimes there are greater kinds of love than the romantic love for another individual.
And while the Hollywood retelling does occasionally veer towards the black-and-white (no pun intended) morality common to its kind, much of the subtlety and nuance remain untouched.
In short, the power and impact of Lowry’s message come through loud and clear — or, well, subtle and clear, because the message of The Giver was never a knock-you-on-the-head message. Rather, it comes through in all its colors, bright and muted alike.
The film is compelling and surprisingly well-done. There are a few weak moments, but the acting is good and the script is far better than expected.
If you’re on the fence, give it a try. I did (grudgingly!), and I don’t regret it.
Maybe you won’t, either.
*Had the up-aging bit actually ruined the story, I would definite not have forgiven it. Just sayin’.