The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

'The Giver,' a passion project for Jeff Bridges, makes it to screen after a two-decade wait

  • Print

NEW YORK, N.Y. - It was almost 20 years ago, and actor Jeff Bridges was searching for a movie project that would be a family affair — one in which he could direct his father, Lloyd, and that his children, then around middle-school age, would want to see.

An entry in a children's book catalogue caught his eye. "It had a picture of this old grizzled guy on the cover. And I said, 'Oh, Dad could do that!'"

That book was "The Giver," by Lois Lowry, which won the prestigious Newberry Medal in 1994 and has sold over 10 million copies worldwide. He read it, then mentioned it to his kids. "They said, 'Oh, we know that, we read it in school,'" he said in an interview this week. "It turned out there were whole curriculums based on it."

Indeed. There's hardly a middle-schooler who hasn't been assigned "The Giver" at some point. And so the film version, opening this week, isn't exactly riding the coattails of book-to-film franchises like "The Hunger Games" and "Divergent." You might actually say it started the whole craze.

But why did it take so long to get made?

"I thought, 'It's gonna be a cinch,'" Bridges chuckled. "And that was 18 years ago."

There were problems. The book, which depicts euthanasia, for one thing, was banned in some places. And because so much of the action took place inside the mind of its main character, it was hard to capture in a screenplay. At least five or six were written. Financing proved elusive.

Years went by. And Bridges and author Lowry watched as young-adult dystopian fiction became the next big thing in Hollywood. "The Hunger Games" debuted in 2012 to huge box office, elevating Jennifer Lawrence to a mega-star; the sequel followed, with two more to come. The "Divergent" franchise launched earlier this year.

"It was kind of unnerving," said Lowry, sipping tea in a Manhattan hotel this week.

And yet, both Lowry and Bridges agree, maybe it's good that it took so long.

"At first I was saying, Oh darn," Bridges said, using a saltier term. "We missed the boat! But really, our movie wouldn't have gotten made without those movies leading the way." (His father died in 1998; now Bridges, a co-producer, himself plays the character of The Giver.)

Lowry, who ranks third among Amazon's top 100 authors, hopes the existence of the other films will increase the audience for "The Giver" — adding people as yet unfamiliar with the book.

"And as for fans of the book," she adds, "we all so hope they won't be outraged by the changes that were necessary. I've been trying to reassure them!"

Ah, the changes — always a balancing act. The story focuses on a boy, Jonas, who lives in a Community ruled by a Committee of Elders. All is based on the concept of Sameness. There's no colour, only black and white. There's no emotion; sexual "stirrings" are blunted with daily medication. Most important, there are no memories of earlier times, for that would cause suffering. But Jonas is chosen to be the community's one Receiver of Memories, and as he learns about the world outside — called Elsewhere — it throws his own world into chaos.

In the book, Jonas is 12. In the movie, his age isn't clear, but he's played by Australian heartthrob Brenton Thwaites, who's 25. This was done partly to create a teen romance, a change that initially deeply concerned both Bridges and Lowry. Now that they've seen the actors, they say, they're happy with it.

Lowry sounds happier about another key change, one that gives Meryl Streep, as the stern Chief Elder, a substantial role. "I wish I could go back to the book and fill out that character now," Lowry said.

But to many fans of the book, it's perfect the way it is. Lowry learned of the book's power during a recent appearance at Comic-Con, where she, and not the stars, proved the major attraction.

"Here I was with all these movie stars, and all the audience questions were for me," she marveled.

But there's a flip side to that reader passion: Some fans got angry when the first trailer came out in colour (in the book, only Jonas can see colour.) "There was outrage," Lowry said. Ultimately, a new trailer was released showing that much of the film is shot in black and white.

That fan passion extends even to members of the cast. At a news conference this week, Taylor Swift, who has a tiny but meaningful role, spoke of how she adored the book in fifth grade.

"It celebrates all the things I hold really dear and are important to me," the singer said, "like our history, our music, our art, our intellect and our memories."

As for Streep, she recalled that the book was on her children's required summer reading list.

Lowry, who of course had no power over what would happen to her story, says she's gratified that filmmakers sought her input. They called her constantly for advice — though they didn't always take it — and even flew her to the set in South Africa.

"One day I muttered — not to anyone in particular — that I hated a certain line of dialogue," she said. "And suddenly I saw it had been cut."

Lowry thinks that if she published her book today, it wouldn't cause nearly the ripples it did two decades ago.

"Now, we've been exposed to something like 'The Hunger Games,' where children are killing other children," she said. "So 'The Giver' sounds like mild fare compared to that."

She's also amazed that people have found a way to project their own politics onto her simple story.

"I read somewhere, 'Oh, finally somebody is speaking for the tea party,'" she said. "At the same time, others are seeing it as an argument for the left! And so it's both. I think that's pretty cool."

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Étienne Gaboury: Manitoba "shining light" of architecture

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Marc Gallant / Winnipeg Free Press.  Local/Weather Standup- Catching rays. Prairie Dog stretches out at Fort Whyte Centre. Fort Whyte has a Prairie Dog enclosure with aprox. 20 dogs young and old. 060607.
  • Young goslings jostle for position to take a drink from a puddle in Brookside Cemetery Thursday morning- Day 23– June 14, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Do you support Canada's involvement in the fight against Islamic State?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google