Most of us read The Giver in middle school and were avid fans from the beginning. For years, Generation Y has been asking, “Where’s our movie adaptation?” “Why haven’t they made it into a film yet?” “This would look amazing on screen!” Finally, after 20 years since its publication, Lois Lowry’s beloved dystopian novel The Giver is being made into a major motion picture.
The Giver is the coming-of-age story of young Jonas, living in a utopian society where everyone seems to be happy. Everything in this place is constructed to rid its people of individuality, including things like suffering, joy and memory. They live in sameness, where every aspect of their lives is identical. When Jonas is chosen to become the apprentice to the Receiver of Memories, or “The Giver,” he learns all about the world before Sameness. As he is exposed to and experiencing things like love, loss and change through his lessons with The Giver, Jonas begins to realize that what they are living in is actually dystopian. In a fight to save his own life and the lives of those he loves, Jonas realizes, with the knowledge he has been given, that the stakes are higher than he ever imagined.
For as long as it seems it has taken Hollywood to send Lowry’s masterpiece through the sawmill, this project has actually been in the works for nearly 15 years. Thanks to co-producer and leading actor Jeff Bridges, who has been enamored with the book since he first read it, the project is being pushed forward after years of dreaming, hoping and hard work. Originally, Bridges was looking for a project in which he could cast his father, and when he happened upon The Giver, he said, “I came across this wonderful cover of a book, with this old, grizzled kind of guy on the cover and thought, ‘Oh yeah, my dad can play that guy!’”
The wonderful thing about The Giver that has made it last through several generations, with over 10 million copies sold worldwide, is that it is a book with a wide target audience. Even Bridges admits that he expected to read a children’s book, but found that it worked well on an adult level. The themes in the novel are universal: those of memory, beauty, sameness versus uniqueness, independent thought and the value of the human spirit.
But what about the movie? Many anxious readers are asking questions about the upcoming film, mostly wanting to know if the adaptation will do justice to the images they’ve had in their heads since 6th grade.
There are many topics being discussed about the potential success and accuracy of the adaptation, but none more than the casting, which includes the casting of the crew. A dream team key crew was assembled with Phillip Noyce (Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, The Bone Collector) as the director, Michael Mitnik (The Current War) as the screenwriter, Nikki Silver (Tonik Productions) producing, Ed Verreaux (X-Men: The Last Stand, Looper, Jurassic Park 3) as production designer, and many more notable names. With a script like The Giver, a lot of actors were itching to be on the list. Legends like Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep, whose kids had read the book, were already signed up, and the combination of acting powerhouses and the respect Harvey Weinstein has in the film community brought actors from far and wide.
Brenton Thwaites, although 24, portrays 12-year-old Jonas. The stunning age difference has stirred up some controversy over the casting choice, even in Bridges. But he is confident in Thwaites and insists that he will do right by the role of the male lead. “I really struggled with casting a 24-year-old to play Jonas who is 12 years old in the book. But when I met Brenton, we hit it off immediately, and he does such a wonderful job in portraying Jonas, I’ve been proven wrong! He has a lot of the spirit that Lois emphasized; it’s not so much about being true to every fact that’s in the book, but to portray the spirit of the book.” It’s fair to say that every detail can’t be taken from page to screen, and it will be interesting to see how this young actor captures the essence of Jonas. Thwaites recently made his Hollywood debut as Prince Phillip in the summer blockbuster Maleficent, and it looks like we can expect to see a lot more of that charming face in big-budget cinema.
Other new faces are making their way to the silver screen. Odeya Rush, who plays Jonas’ best friend and love interest Fiona, is an Israeli-born actress gone redhead for the role. Showtime’s Shameless star Cameron Monaghan plays Asher, the rogue of the story. “[He] was always the one who was a little bit on the edge,” says Monaghan of his character. “Then as Jonas starts to defy the system and move against it, Asher becomes a pawn in it. He’s the guy who ends up chasing after Jonas, and he starts to become the antagonist. So their stories are going in opposite ways throughout the movie. It’s an interesting arc for a character.” Additionally, the role of Rosemary is played by Taylor Swift, Alexander Skarsgard as Father, Katie Holmes as Mother, and 7-year-old Emma Tremblay plays Jonas’ younger sister Lily.
Another major part of The Giver that readers want to see onscreen is the fact that color doesn’t exist in this world of sameness. Director of Photography Ross Emery says of this, “The community is very manufactured and their world is the uneventful, bland and colorless, but I visualized it with the absence of color, and not in black and white. Color is a stimulus to heightened sensations in the story. As Jonas starts experiencing memories, color starts leaking into the story. Red represents the initial awakening of his passion, and then we introduce a palette of primary colors.”
So far so good–but what does author Lois Lowry have to say about her masterpiece being turned into a film? Screenwriter Michael Mitkin says of her contribution, “She couldn’t have been more generous and understanding.” Lowry adds that she has seen screenplay after screenplay of adaptations of her novel, but none of them hit the mark. There was a lot missing, because there is not a great deal of action in the book, since it takes place inside Jonas’ head. What was needed was a script that would stay true to the themes of the book. Silver explains, “Lois told us that the best adaptations are about keeping the spirit of the novel, not the novel itself. So we took her literally and her view of that. In developing it, we really had to think about what in The Giver would make a great film. What are the messages that we want to be telling? What are those themes that we want to pull through?” The team of artists behind The Giver have really captured what it means to make a true and successful adaptation, and the final product is sure to showcase their hours of hard work and dedication to the piece.
I’m a born and bred Jersey girl going to school in Boston for film production and creative writing. I’m the person who says hi to strangers on the street while you’re just trying to get your trenta half-caf skinny boysenberry 108-degree no foam latte.
Check out more from Amy Russo on TDQ…