The Giver: Book vs Movie

Earlier this year, I was reluctant to watch the Jeff Bridges’ adaptation of The Giver because I remember reading and loving the book when I was about 12-13, and based on the trailer, it seemed like a lot had changed.

A few weeks ago, when I was sitting on an airplane, mildly stressed out (I get nervous when I fly), I decided to watch it because it wasn’t like I was doing anything else. It seemed like my initial reaction was on point: a lot had changed. But then I started wondering if maybe my memory of the book was a little fuzzy so I re-read it.

“Jonas’s world is perfect. Everything is under control. There is no war or fear of pain. There are no choices. Every person is assigned a role in the community. When Jonas turns 12 he is singled out to receive special training from The Giver. The Giver alone holds the memories of the true pain and pleasure of life. Now, it is time for Jonas to receive the truth. There is no turning back.”

I could ramble about the differences for a while, but I chose to focus on the five points that bothered me the most instead. NOTE: spoilers (book and movie) and Adventure Time reaction gifs abound!

1) Ageing the characters. 

Holy frack, it drives me insane when characters are aged in movie adaptations. 99% of the time it’s because the filmmakers find it necessary to introduce a love interest who either a) doesn’t exist in the original book or b) doesn’t become a “love interest” until later in the series (I’m looking at you, Percy Jackson). Here’s a tip: if the source material is already good and/or beloved, it’s not necessary to add romance.

According to the IMDB page: “Jonas and Fiona were aged up four years* because they can not show a twelve year old have stirrings to the public.”

*I read somewhere else that they were aged six years (18 instead of 12), but it doesn’t really matter.

“Stirrings”, if you’re wondering, are dreams that Jonas has about his female friend. Nothing too scandalous or sexual but growing up in a community without love (i.e. love literally doesn’t exist), he doesn’t understand his feelings for her. In the book, he describes his dream to his parents…and yes, when we read it in school, there was a lot of tittering and no one could take it seriously, but the movie didn’t have to show it. They could talk about…you know, exactly the way it plays out in the book.

1b) Jonas/Fiona

Honestly, their relationship was awkward. SPOILER ALERT: he can’t share memories with everyone, that’s literally the whole point of the story and it’s why Jonas is the ONLY Receiver of Memory. So if he can start sharing memories with Fiona, the whole plot line becomes pointless.

2) “Futuristic”

Yes, it’s a dystopian novel set in the future where a lot of things (including colours and feelings) are controlled. But nowhere in the book does it say that their technology is super advanced. I always assumed they lived in a sort of backwards world with little to no technology (apart from planes). But that’s a personal thing, I guess.

3) Assignments

Asher goes from being the Assistant Recreational Director to becoming a Pilot.

*mouth popping noise to indicate confusion*

Two completely different careers, not even remotely related. SPOILER ALERT: it’s because they needed Asher for the BIG DRAMATIC ENDING. Instead of just making him comic relief, like in the book.

Similar to how they made Fiona a Nurturer instead of a Caretaker of the Old because then she too could be all “I love you, Jonas, even though I don’t know what love is. Here, let me help you steal a baby.” Which, I mean,  yay for strong female characters but that plot point was a little more impressive when book Jonas did it on his own.

4) T-Swift

Let me be completely honest: I don’t like Taylor Swift. I’m sure she’s a lovely person, but there was a year when all I heard at work was Taylor Swift and now her voice hurts my brain. I also don’t know why they needed her to play Rosemary (the Receiver of Memory who failed before Jonas was selected) because in the books, the Giver hints at music but doesn’t share it with Jonas. This was clearly a scene dropped into the movie to give T-Swizzle more exposure because she’s so obscure…

5) The Chief Elder

I like Meryl Streep as much as the next person, but she was the BIG BAD VILLAIN and honestly, the Elders were only in the book for 5-10 pages TOTAL. It’s more of a philosophical text and less of a “here’s what GOOD looks like and here’s BAD”, so her character was sort of out there. She made for a lot more drama though, so I guess that’s a good thing?


It wasn’t terrible. It definitely wasn’t the worst adaptation I’ve ever seen, but for something that claimed to be “loyal” to the original, it strayed awfully far from the source, presumably to make it more accessible (even though it really didn’t help but it didn’t do well in the box office).

If you genuinely love the philosophical nature of the book, don’t bother watching the movie. Otherwise, it was decent, if a little slow.