How Loyal is ‘The Giver’ Movie to Lois Lowry’s Novel?

Eight years ago, Phillip Noyce released his movie adaptation of ‘The Giver’ by Lois Lowry. However, the dystopia that readers loved flopped on the big screen.

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The Giver, Lois Lowry, adaptation, dystopia

In 1994, Lois Lowry published The Giver, her first young adult dystopian novel. The book was an immediate success, sweeping up almost every prestigious prize for young adult literature. In 1994, The Giver won the Newbery Medal and, a year later, it won the William Allen White Children’s Book Award. Even today, 28 years after its publication date, The Giver is on middle school reading lists across schools in the United States, Canada, and Australia. As of 2018, The Giver had sold more than 12 million copies worldwide.

When The Giver arrived in theaters on August 15, 2014, it was a long-awaited project. In fact, Jeff Bridges, who stars in The Giver movie as The Giver himself, had shopped the film idea around Hollywood for 15 years before it was finally picked up by The Weinstein Company. Directed by Phillip Noyce, the film features performances by Meryl Streep, Taylor Swift, and Brenton Thwaites, among other popular stars.

As popular as Lowry’s novel was, The Giver film was a flop in the box office. Although Lowry attempted to assure audiences that the movie “brought [the book] to a new level,” The Giver made a limp $12.8 million debut. Part of this small figure is due to the steep competition The Giver faced while in theaters. Two box office sensations- Guardians of the Galaxy and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles– were released around the same time, advertising to the same young adult audience.

However, critics believe that the movie’s failure lies much deeper than its competition. According to a review by Rotten Tomatoes, which gave the movie a disappointing two out of five stars, “Phillip Noyce directs The Giver with visual grace, but the movie doesn’t dig deep enough into the classic source material’s thought-provoking ideas.” While producing The Giver movie, Noyce made slight changes to the story in order to adapt it to the big screen and apply to mainstream audiences.

Did these changes actually subtract from the moral lessons The Giver novel teaches? For the movie’s eight year anniversary, here’s a closer look at where the book and movie differ. You can decide for yourself if The Giver movie adaptation was a great success or a total flop!

Warning! This article contains spoilers!

The Giver Synopsis

The Giver, Lois Lowry, adaptation, dystopia

If you never got around to reading The Giver, no worries! Here’s a short synopsis of Lowry’s dystopian novel.

For a brief second, try to imagine a world without grief, conflict, or war. There is no prejudice or competition, and everyone is habitually polite. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? This is the world that eleven-year old Jonas lives in. However, this also means that Jonas must live in a world without color, human emotion, or memory of what the world once was.

In Jonas’ community, at the age of twelve, every member of the community is assigned a job based on his or her abilities and interests. Citizens are assigned a spouse based on their compatibility, and each family unit is given exactly two children each. Children are born from “Birthmothers,” and they spend their first year of life in the Nurturing Center with other “newchildren” that were born that year. When someone in the community becomes too old to work or function in society, they are released to Elsewhere. Citizens believe that flawed newchildren and elderly people sent to Elsewhere live joyfully outside the bounds of their community.

Although Jonas is a good student and a well-behaved citizen, he is concerned about what job assignment he will receive at the Ceremony of Twelve. Unlike his friends Fiona and Asher, Jonas doesn’t favor one career over the other. On top of that, strange things have been happening to his vision. Sometimes, objects “change” when he looks at them and he has an incredible power of perception.

At Jonas’ Ceremony of Twelve, he is given the highly honored assignment as Receiver of Memory. When the community devised their plan for “Sameness”- its painless, emotionless state of harmony- they erased all memory of war and grief. Community members must take daily pills in order to maintain this state of forgetfulness. However, these memories cannot be replaced entirely. The Receiver of Memory is responsible for carrying old memories in order to advise the community and avoid making the same mistakes of the past.

In order to do this, Jonas has daily meetings with a man called “The Giver.” The Giver transmits memories to Jonas by placing his hands on Jonas’ bare back. The first memory he receives is a vision of sledding through the snow. As Jonas receives more and more memories from The Giver- of love, passion, excitement, pleasure, terror, grief, pain, and hunger- his life becomes more enriched and meaningful. Jonas wishes he could share these memories with the people he loves, but he knows they wouldn’t understand. Deprived of their emotions, nobody feels true love for Jonas except The Giver. But there’s a catch: after The Giver transfers memories to Jonas, The Giver no longer remembers them.

Meanwhile, Jonas is helping his family unit take care of a problematic newchild named Gabriel. Because Gabriel refuses to sleep through the night, he is not eligible to be given a family unit. Jonas’ father, who works at the Nurturing Center, is asked to take him in. At nights, in order to soothe the crying Gabriel, Jonas transmits memories to him. They begin to build a relationship until Jonas learns that Gabriel is in danger of being released.

When Jonas confides in The Giver about Gabriel’s release, The Giver reveals that release is actually death. Outraged and horrified, Jonas and The Giver devise a plan to help return memories to the community and to save Gabe. The Giver tells Jonas the story of his daughter, who had been selected as the Receiver ten years prior. Tragically, the memories of war and grief became too much for her, and she asked to be released. After her death, the memories she had collected were released into the community, and The Giver was reprimanded for the emotional toll it took on the citizens.

The Giver and Jonas realize that Jonas’ larger supply of memories will be dispersed back into the community in one of two ways: through death or by escaping to Elsewhere. The pair decides that Jonas will make the trek, and The Giver will stay in the community to help citizens come to terms with their new feelings and thoughts.

Desperate to save Gabriel, Jonas steals his father’s bicycle and leaves for Elsewhere. Along his journey, he enters an entirely new landscape of changing landscapes and weather, as well as beautiful wildlife. Jonas successfully avoids search planes, but his journey becomes more difficult when he comes across snow. Half-frozen, hungry, and exhausted, Jonas strengthens Gabriel with memories of sunshine and friendship. Finally, Jonas mounts a snowy hill and finds a sled. Jonas and Gabriel get to experience, in real life, the first memory Jonas received, but the novel ends ambiguously. It is unclear whether Jonas actually reaches Elsewhere, or if he dies somewhere along his treacherous path.

Differences Between The Giver Book and Movie

Here’s a look at the five biggest differences- in my opinion- between Lowry’s book and Noyce’s movie.

1. Age


Age is one of the most important aspects of The Giver. In the book, citizens are given their job assignment at the age of 12. However, in the movie, job assignments are given at the age of 18. The halfway mark to this entrance into adulthood is shown through the Ceremony of Nines, where young children are given bicycles.

Although Lowry was concerned about this major change, she changed her mind after meeting the cast. Additionally, by making Jonas, Asher, Fiona, and the rest of the characters appear more mature, Noyce was able to add a bit of romance to the movie.

2. Technology


In the movie, technology is much more impressive than in the book. Jonas’ world is filled with drones, holograms, and other technologically advanced devices. This means that Jonas has never even seen a book before, making his experiences with The Giver even more new and confusing. However, the technology introduced in the movie also gives Jonas new challenges. Instead of avoiding taking a daily pill, he uses an apple to avoid taking his daily injections. Furthermore, while escaping to Elsewhere, he must avoid drone strikes from his former best friend, Asher.

3. Relationships


Fiona, Jonas’ best friend and crush, is given a much bigger role in the movie than in the book. In the book, Jonas begins to have feelings for Fiona, but he never acts on these “stirrings.” However, in the movie, he eventually kisses her and encourages her to also skip her daily injections. By sharing his experiences with her, Fiona begins to change, too. Eventually, as a nursery worker, Fiona is able to help Jonas escape to Elsewhere with Gabriel.

4. Memory


Personally, this is one of the most disappointing changes I noticed between the book and the movie. In the book, it becomes apparent that once The Giver transmits his memories to Jonas, The Giver no longer remembers these memories. This heightens Jonas’ journey to Elsewhere because not only is he trying to restore memories to the community, but he is also trying to give memories back to The Giver.

In the movie, it seems as though The Giver still remembers even after sharing his memories with Jonas. Although it makes Jonas’ final journey less impactful, it does make Jonas’ relationship with The Giver much more meaningful. They are able to connect on a deeper level through their shared knowledge, and The Giver becomes a grandfather-like figure to Jonas.

5. The Ending


The ending of The Giver movie is significantly more action-packed, and much less ambiguous than in the book. In the movie, when Jonas takes Gabriel from the Nursing Center, he is chased through the nursery and into the wild with his friend, Asher, chasing him in a drone. Asher eventually captures him, but after remembering their years of friendship, he drops him into a large lake with a waterfall, allowing Jonas to escape.

Furthermore, the movie shows that Jonas actually does make it to Elsewhere, which is marked by a large monument. A wave of energy travels over the wilderness and into the community, restoring the ability to see color and have emotions. Although it is satisfying for the viewer to see that Jonas completed his journey, it takes away from the philosophical nature of Lowry’s book.

So yes, The Giver novel and movie differ in drastic ways. Because of this, you probably won’t have to write an essay on literary themes in the movie adaptation anytime soon. However, The Giver in all of its forms teaches an important moral lesson: choice and memories bring pain, but they also bring empathy, love, and wisdom.

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