Monday, August 18, 2014

Monday Movie ~ The Giver ~ “We gained control of many things. But we had to let go of others.”

We saw The Giver at the weekend. Having read the novel a few months ago (my post on it is HERE) , the story was fairly fresh in memory. I'd read a couple of early reviews of the movie, so was ready for most of the changes made to the original.

(Beware spoilers!)

Main change was in the age of the leading character, Jonas, from a 12-year old boy to a youth of around 16. He was selected to train with the Giver to become the new carrier of historical memory for the whole community. Something indefinable was lost through this age change, I felt. Hollywood, however, needs to put bums on seats to keep filling its coffers. Bums on seats requires romance, sex, and action these days - or any days. Hollywood hasn't often gone for subtle allegorical items, it likes to hit the audience sharply up side of head with film themes. Consequently we have the addition of a budding love relationship to the tale of The Giver, along with a chase involving a (shock horror) drone towards the movie's end. I could definitely have done without that drone! How come all memories of drones hadn't been wiped out, eh? Eh????

The film mostly stayed within the novel's broad storyline, adding visuals which may or may not match those seen in the imagination of readers. The movie depicts a community living upon a synthetic looking plateau or mesa top - something I'd not seen in my mind's eye when reading the book. The dwelling places, clothing, and Giver's house were much as I'd imagined though. I'd imagined the Giver himself to be much frailer than the burly and still handsome Jeff Bridges. This movie had been Bridges' dream to bring to the screen for some 20 years though, he was entitled to take a lead part. In an interview on Letterman's show recently, Bridges said that long ago he'd wanted to film The Giver with his father, Lloyd Bridges in the Giver role. It wasn't too difficult for me to re-assess Giver's appearance, but I did feel that Jeff Bridges put a lot of what he, personally, had gleaned from the novel into the part - maybe rightly, maybe not.

We enjoyed the film overall. It sparked a long conversation later, as we listened to some music. Any film that can cause husband to converse about societal issues while jazz greats are playing in the background has to have much to recommend it!

Basically, the novel and film, set way, way into the future (I wish some indication had been made of exactly how far) contrast human nature, when allowed to follow its natural instincts, versus human nature controlled and reined in. There was, we were led to believe in the novel, an important reason for the control of society in this manner, but it wasn't explored in any depth. An event, or set of events known as "the ruin" had, at some point in the past been about to lead to an inevitable extinction of the human race, or so we assumed, connecting the dots. "Sameness" had been imposed, long ago, on groups of survivors. Advanced technology must still have been available to them. This "Sameness" brought about, by mass manipulation, a society with no individuality, no sense of seeing colour, no memory of past history, no fear, no pain, no war, no violence, no strong emotion, no lies, and using only precise language. I came to the conclusion that these impositions had been placed on the surviving groups of people not from some fascistic attempt to control, or a yen for power, or wealth (money seemed not to exist), but as a way to save the human race. The reining in, we discover during the novel and film, involved genetic manipulation, euthanasia, and not to mince words, the murder of a proportion of babies. These things, presumably, had been necessary evils early on, perhaps to keep population control in place while climate was controlled, and a new form of civilisation developed and took shape. As in every endeavour in which we humans take part though, all had gone too far. We never know when to stop do we? But human nature is not capable of being so severely reined in for ever, or even for long.

Keeping society in check was the job of a council of "elders" led by a cringe-inducing Maggie Thatcher-like Chief Elder played by Meryl Streep. A line of Chief Elder's:
"If people have the freedom to choose, they choose wrong...every single time."
By the way, we are not told how the council of elders had managed to escape the "Release" (euthanasia). Probably a case of "not what you know but who you know"?

The film's ending strayed a little from the novel's ending. The novel's ending left it open for an allegorical comparison to bible and other religious/spiritual stories : an individual sacrificing everything for the good of all. By Jonas crossing the boundary into Elsewhere, the people of Sameness would recover memory, colour, emotion and all that entailed. The baby Jonas carried with him on his escape was named Gabriel.....I wonder why?

Last lines of the novel (below), after Jonas had "broken the spell" as it were, by breaking through the boundary, but by now he and the baby were freezing, to the point of death:
"Suddenly he [Jonas] was aware with certainty and joy that below, ahead, they were waiting for him; and that they were waiting, too, for the baby. For the first time, he heard something that he knew to be music. He heard people singing. Behind him, across vast distances of space and time, from the place he had left, he thought he heard music too. But perhaps it was only an echo."

(In the film more words were added to these, to provide a less "final" ending.)

Hmm - "across vast distances of space and time" ? That could indicate moving across the "Sameness/Elsewhere" boundary was actually an exercise in time travel! I hadn't quite grasped that. Somehow, through highly advanced technology, had the Sameness community sped on into the future, through many centuries, while the "old" world remained, as it was before, warts and all? Or maybe I'm going just too sci-fi far on that tack.

Lois Lowry, author of The Giver:
"A lot of people I know would hate that ending, but not me. I loved it. Mainly because I got to make the book happy. I decided they made it. They made it to the past. I decided the past was our world, and the future was their world. It was parallel worlds."
The Giver is well worth seeing, whether before, after or instead of the novel. Similar ground has been covered before, in a variety of ways, but never quite like this.


mike said...

Perhaps Jonas' crossing the "Sameness-Elsewhere" boundary into the past is the seed that creates the ruin and "Sameness". The ending of "The Giver" maybe indicated how the future came ouroboros.

The movie sounds good...I'll have to wait a decade or two for the TV version with commercials every five minutes. However, the plot you describe has a confluence of several other books' and-or movies' plot similarities.

Movies have been around for a little over a century...books and the creative mind, much, much longer. There's nothing like reading a book and allowing the mind to set-up its own stage. I can only speak for myself, but a book penetrates my brain cells in ways that a movie does not. I can typically recall much more detail after reading a book when compared to recalling a viewed movie. The ready-for-consumption aspect of a movie eliminates the creative process inherent in book form.

It's interesting to note that the history of theater enthralled humans over the millennia, because it was a form of conveying information (much like "the giver" in "The Giver"), but also to provide a story (book) to an audience that for the most part could not read or write. Are coming full-circle with movies?

Twilight said...

mike ~ Good point! Yes, though I'm not certain that would have been in Lois Lowry's mind when writing the book. It's something lovers of mystic themes and sci-fi could appreciate.

There are certainly echoes of other books and movies in the story. I thought of Logan's Run, 1984, Fahrenheit 451, and some other books I've read and forgotten their titles.
I don't think the idea of a Giver of memories has been presented before though.

The book is a slim volume, less than 200 pages I think. It must have been easier to adapt for film than those hefty tomes such as "Dune" or "Les Miserables", which would really be better suited as TV mini-series - "Dune" was done both ways.

I like both books and films, often a film has encouraged me to read the book, I'm sure this is common, and no bad thing!

Full circle? Maybe. Smart phones, i-pads and whatever come next could just about finish a lot of film theatres - live theatres too, in time as the older generations die off. Fiction and its presentation might take on different, (unimaginable now) guises.

anyjazz said...

It was a good yarn. Most of all it provoked good discussions on into the night and the next day. That's something not many movies or books will do.

Twilight said...

anyjazz ~ It was a story aimed at young adults, originally, but quality writing has a possibility of discovering other layers and themes, just beneath the surface. It's along the lines of that other matter of quality we often mention: quality musical composition lending itself to many presentations in lots of different styles which the composer had probably never imagined.

LB said...

Thanks, Twilight. I plan on seeing it, though I didn't read past your "spoiler alert"!

Interesting how it led to a longer discussion. I like those types of movies.:)

Twilight said...

LB ~ I hope you enjoy - I'll be interested to know what you think of the film, afterwards. :-)