Why The Giver Didn’t Work


It’s more than with a little bit of schadenfreude that I report that the movie adaptation of The Giver bombed over the weekend. Friend D sent this to me, and I think it’s spot on

I love YA. I love the books, the writers, the passion that both the writers and the books inspire, and the principle of turning YA books into movies. We get lots of teens looking for copies of The Hunger Games or The Maze Runner (I’ll never miss a chance to link to that trailer) because the movie, or the prospect of the movie, has turned them on to the book.

But for every movie with the success of and adherence to the source material of the Hunger Games, there’s a Giver (or, as the above article points out, an Ender’s Game or an Eragon). 

So why don’t some book-to-movie adaptations work? Or, more succinctly, where did The Giver go wrong? 

First, you can’t mess with the source material. I think that the more faithful a movie is to the book, the better the movie will do in the box office and, naturally, with the fans. We the fans are very possessive of the books. The writers of The Fault in Our Stars movie kept a lot of the source material – and the original dialogue – from the novel. It didn’t hurt that John Green had unprecedented access to the set and even a voice in casting. Naturally, both the movie and the book resembled each other.

The problem with The Giver was that for godsakes, the first trailer was in color! I mean, I don’t want to spoil the book, but there is a MAJOR problem with that decision. I decided once I saw the trailer that I wouldn’t be seeing the movie, since they got one of the most fundamental quirks of the book all wrong. How could I trust the filmmakers after that?

Second, fans of the book cast the characters within their imaginations. Daniel Radcliffe was a good Harry Potter, for instance. Age-appropriate, and, trivially, resembling the Harry on the covers of the books, and Rowling’s descriptions of him.

But Brendon Thwaites, a 25-year-old actor, as a 12-year-old Jonas? It might not mean anything if Lowry’s character Jonas were older. But Jonas being 12, and all that the age implies, is crucial to the plot of the book. Jonas, at 12, is in adolescence, going through the things that adolescents go through, and I don’t believe that it can translate well when someone in his mid-twenties (I mean, come on), is trying to play a character a decade younger. (For the record, thirtysomething Gabrielle Carteris as teenage Andrea Zuckerman on Beverly Hills, 90210 was silly then, and it’s still silly now.)

And finally, I think that when the audience is privy to some of the (negative) background buzz, it can affect how we interpret the movie. A perfect example was in today’s Washington Postabout Katie Holmes, linking her (alleged) involvement in (the allegedly restrictive environment of) Scientology with the restrictive, dystopian society within The Giver. If it was a wink to the audience, it was a poor choice, and if it wasn’t, astute moviegoers will make their own connections between the two.

In short, I mentioned to one of my coworkers today that I’d be open to seeing The Giver… on Netflix … if there’s another Snowmageddon … and I’ve watched everything else on my list. Hey, it has Meryl Streep, so you could do worse, but still, I couldn’t have more negative enthusiasm for this movie than I already do.


A Q/A with the cast and author of The Giver. 

Can’t wait to read this. Murakami is a very interesting dude.

Fans of YA shouldn’t miss these.

Here’s hoping these fare better than The Giver. 

Letters About Literature: Dear Jhumpa Lahiri

An important line in an important scene. In short, another fuck-up within The Giver.

From Coworker J: What a treasure trove!

From Friend D: Sister A and I are very, very possessive of “our” covers. Our childhood covers, I mean. 

From Mama Bear:

I agree with these, but I thought Holden was a douche even then, and still think he’s a douche now. 

Happy Birthday, Celestina Warbeck! (If you know who that is without clicking the link, I’m proud of you.)

From Sister A: Girls get shafted. Not every YA protagonist is a Katniss Everdeen.

In What’s Annabelle Reading, I was short of books over the weekend, and e-borrowed Silver Linings Playbook. It wasn’t completely in tune with the movie (or, rather, the movie changed a lot of the plot), but I liked the writing very much. And as a football fan, it resonated deeply with me.  Next I e-read the short and revealing The Reason I Jumpbecause I know some noncommunicative kids with autism, and I was curious as to what author Naoki Higashida had to say about living with his condition. Finally, earlier in the weekend, I’d read The Country Girls, which I found interesting – I love Ireland and books about it – but it was so dated that its relevancy was nil.


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