The Giver: Book Versus Movie

This is my awesome reading/viewing response.

I read The Giver a few days ago, mostly because I’m one of the only 9th graders ever who hasn’t read it. Basically, this book is your typical totalitarian government story that gets assigned to you in school. The best dystopian literature, in my opinion, exaggerates things that are wrong with our society in order to hi-light injustice and call for change. The Hunger Games deals with the unequal distribution of wealth and the exploitation of lower-class people. Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies trilogy deals with beauty standards, involuntary psychiatry (think about the lesions), and the way that emotional numbing leads to self-harm.

The Giver falls into a different category of dystopian novels – a category wherein the writer creates a society that could never happen to illustrate how great our present society is. Much like the society in Ayn Rand’s Anthem, the society in The Giver watches peoples’ every move and chooses peoples’ lifetime occupations for them. In both novels, love is forbidden and sex is no longer a thing. In both novels, the reader is expected to suspend disbelief and accept that the inquisitive, brooding young male hero is literally the first person to ever forget his Don’t Have Sex drug or to question why we don’t have love anymore. Both novels end in a similar way, with the hero running off into the sunset and hoping that someday his friends will join him.

If you think that’s tiresome, wait until you see the movie version of The Giver. Because no good dystopian film would be complete without a forced, horribly forbidden heterosexual teen romance, the movie-verse gives people their career assignments at sixteen instead of twelve. Instead of just having a wet dream about Fiona getting naked in an old person’s bathtub, Jonas actually kisses her (much to the shock of all the people who are like “what are they doing? We don’t understand!!!!”) and eventually convinces her to fall in love with him, despite her initial discomfort with the idea (more on that later).

The world is also changed so that instead of living in an Abnegation-style world (think Divergent), they have this bizarre, out of place futuristic technology like hologram computers and injection buttons in their homes. There is also a Big Bad village elder who has the same hair and general demeanor as the District 13 president in The Hunger Games. By the end of the film, Jonas actually manages to save everybody and we even see the world regain its color like it did in those Skittles commercials they played when I was little.

Fighter drones, blatant rip-offs of Hunger Games peacekeepers, and generic futuristic technology aside, the movie version of The Giver frustrated me for similar reasons that the book did.

1. It’s another example of “society hates your heterosexual love.” There are actually people in relationships that society sees as an illness and wants to “cure,” but it’s apparently more box-office-worthy if the people are straight.

2. The random baby-killing thing is such an obvious pro-life reference, oh my god.

3. The biological determinism. It seems like because the “family unit” is not biologically related to Jonas, we are supposed to see it as a totally “fake” family, whereas the baby who probably has the same birth mother as Jonas is supposed to be his “real” brother.

4. The whole “the government wants to euthanize your grandmother” thing that miraculously predates the Obama Care debate.

5. The fact that all the horrible memories are of war. Ugh. It bothers me so much that none of them are of things like rape, genocide, racism, human trafficking, etc. I know that can’t be in a book for children supposedly, but if you want a reason why sexual desire would be suppressed – look no farther than the out-of-control problem that is sexual violence (and face it, it’s totally out of control, police don’t care half the time and can be convinced to drop the whole case despite multiple eyewitness accounts if your mom vouches for the abusers, trust me I know). None of Jonas’s experiences make it really obvious why emotion itself is feared, but the writer could have made a stronger case for that.

6. The fact that ultimately the big moral is “just do the Christian conservative family and monogamy thing or else society will descend into loveless chaos.”

I guess I’m not quite sure why this book (and possibly movie) is so popular.


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