The adaptation of the classic young adult novel “The Giver” has been a long time coming. Star Jeff Bridges optioned the rights for it 18 years ago, but it took a long time to get all the pieces in place to get it made. Author Lois Lowry says she doesn’t mind too much, though. “Oddly, if they had been able to do it 18 years ago, it wouldn’t have been as good. Jeff was too young to play the role and now he’s terrific in it,” Lowry says.
Though Bridges initially intended to have his father play the role, Lowry is pretty happy he ended up doing it himself, since she called his onscreen bond with star Brenton Thwaites “the closest” element in the film to how she imagined it would be when she first wrote the book. One change she’s happy with? The greater role played by Meryl Streep’s character, one of the very traditional authority figures called “Elders” who clashes repeatedly with Bridges’ Giver character. “She’s so good and it added the element of conflict between Jeff and Meryl’s characters, which is not in the book, so it’s a whole other level to the movie that I think works very well,” says Lowry.
There are a few other changes here and there, but Lowry says director Phillip Noyce came to her with a variety of questions about aspects of the world of “The Giver”, and at least one of her recommendations ended up in the film. He wanted to know how the kids’ rooms would be decorated, and Lowry’s suggestion of a very practical periodic table of the elements poster appears in Jonah’s little sister’s room.
The other change she made? While watching the editor hard at work putting the film together, she suggested she didn’t like one of the lines, and the next time she saw the scene, it was gone. “It had the phrase ‘swirling vortex’ in it,” she says, laughing. “I thought that was a horrible phrase.”
Censorship hits close to home
The book and the movie both focus on the dangers of censorship, a subject Lowry says she’s all too familiar with: Even before she wrote “The Giver,” some of her earlier work had had censorship challenges brought to it. Despite that, she says “I’m always aware that the people who bring the challenges to my books ... they have the best of intentions. They want to protect their children.” Lowry says her idea was that if war and crime and illness were eliminated, the authority figures of the town would think children didn’t need to read about them anymore. “Of course, if you have none of those things left, and you have no pain, no anguish in your lives anymore, you also lose art and music. All of those things that arise out of anguish, it’s all gone,” she says.