Jonas is now 16, in love with Fiona, and a beefcake. WARNING: Spoilers for the book and the movie ahead!
David Bloomer/Weinstein Company
Author Lois Lowry has been very supportive of the movie adaptation of her Newbery Medal-winning book The Giver, which hits theaters this week, complimenting how screenwriters Michael Mitnick and Robert B. Weide and director Phillip Noyce (Salt) "have taken [her] work and expanded it, brought it to a new level." The level the filmmakers are aspiring to is clearly the one occupied by recent hits Divergent and The Hunger Games, with which Lowry's story has a lot in common. Like them, The Giver is set in a dystopian future in which its hero/heroine comes of age and attempts to topple the oppressive system, and it kicks off a loose series of books set in the same world, all ripe to be brought to the screen should the first one work out.
But Lowry's 1993 novel comes from a different era, when "young adult" was more of a library subsection than a massive literary industry dominated by sci-fi and fantasy. The Giver doesn't play by the same rules as the adaptations with which The Weinstein Company seems to hope it'll be grouped. Lowry's book, which is a standard on many middle school curricula and reading lists, isn't a rollicking adventure filled with love triangles and feats of physical endurance — it's more of a fable, in which its main character spends a lot of his time sitting in a room with an old man, talking and thinking.
But that hasn't stopped the filmmakers from trying to YA-ify The Giver, and the result is something that trades in a lot of what made Lowry's work a contemporary classic for generic dystopian details.
Jonas is now a teenager.
The movie bumps protagonist Jonas up from 12 years old to 16, and he's played, in typical Hollywood fashion, by 25-year-old Aussie actor Brenton Thwaites. There are obvious reasons to make this tweak — the long-past-his-teens Thwaites is more heartthrobby than any actor playing a tween could ever be. But the aging up of Jonas also shifts our perception of the story, which is about how Jonas is selected to become the new Receiver of Memory, the person who stores all the Community's memories from the time before they converted to orderly, neutered "Sameness," when they still felt strong emotions, engaged in wars, fell in love. The old Receiver, who becomes the Giver (Jeff Bridges), slowly transmits these memories to Jonas, and Jonas comes to realize the horror of what everyone's given up to have such extreme stability. At 12, Jonas is just leaving childhood and starting to see and question the world through adult eyes. His journey into awareness is paired with his coming-of-age — he has good reason to, at first, not grasp what's going on. But at 16, Jonas feels more like he's already a part of that world, just another one of the Community's fit, white, cheery, well-behaved, slightly dim residents.
There's a love story.
The biggest change in bringing The Giver to the screen is the addition of a love story for now post-adolescent Jonas. In the book, Fiona is one of Jonas' friends, who has a gift for caring for the elderly and is described as "quiet and polite," but with "a sense of fun as well." She sparks Jonas' first hormonal "Stirrings," which the citizens of the Community take pills to tamp down — their marriages and the kids they raise are all assigned to them by the Elders. But, as played by 17-year-old Odeya Rush, Fiona is moved up to full-on love interest. Jonas kisses her, convinces her to stop taking her medication, and begs her to run off with him. It's an understandable attempt to inject a more prominent female character into the story, but there's still almost nothing to Fiona. She's now the "girl who makes everyone smile," and she adores babies, and there's the faintest implication of a love triangle involving the pair's other bestie Asher (Cameron Monaghan), another character from the novel given a reworking on screen. But, in a story in which the characters have been deliberately stunted by a stifling environment, this added romance doesn't come across as organic or forbidden, just expected and empty.
David Bloomer/Weinstein Company