There’s been a distressing trend lately toward pillaging the Required Reading List for movies. First came “The Great Gatsby,” in 3D, which turned out to be the longest, most involved Book on Tape Narrated By Tobey Maguire that I’ve ever seen (give or take a few party scenes). But not content to ravage the high school requirements, now America’s Life-Ruining Machine has turned to our middle school favorites.
I knew they were taking “The Giver.” But now I find that Taylor Swift will be in it, playing Rosemary.
I guess, given that “The Giver” is all about how you can have a fairly functional society if you pay the small price of destroying all joyful memories, this makes sense. That is basically what this adaptation seeks to do.
The addition of Taylor Swift to the cast is the cherry on top of the terrible sundae, at least in the sense that the cherry has a strange texture and suppurates pink liquid onto the ice cream and generally makes the thing worse, so you want to remove it as quickly as possible. I guess her eyes are the right color for the role?
I look forward to the catchy tune that will inevitably assault our eardrums concomitantly with the release of the film. Probably it will be something with a name like “Release” or “Bad Memory” (“Sledding down a hill/Leg splintering/Now I’m sitting still/Waiting for a ring/Guess you had to/Release me/Now you’re just a/Bad memory/Hoo hoo hoo hoo Bad memory/This also reflects on my dating life somehow.”)
The Teen Vogue article informing us of this hideous news cites “The Giver” as “the original Hunger Games” which is — not quite how I would have billed it. In a sense, every piece of dystopic fiction is “the original Hunger Games,” but you don’t see people slapping that label on “Animal Farm.” (Note to People Who Do These Things: Please don’t put Taylor Swift in your adaptation of “Animal Farm.”)
For anyone whose childhood was structured in such a way that you did not have to read “The Giver” (maybe you were in one of the school districts where it was banned for being Too Unsettling, an edict that perversely drives home the point of the plot), it is about a dystopic utopia where everyone rides bicycles, all feeling has been banned in favor of “sameness,” where euthanasia (“release”) is a major part of life, and where all memories of the time before Sameness are stored in someone called the Receiver of Memory. The newly selected Receiver, the novel’s protagonist, gets these memories by having a sad, elderly bearded man lay hands on him in daily private sessions that I accidentally have made sound a lot creepier than they in fact are. These memories cut both ways — they include delight and sorrow, the sharp pain of a broken leg and the warmth of a family around a Christmas tree. The whole novel deals with rich meaty questions, such as what price do you have to pay to eliminate pain, what makes for a good society, and what actually happened to the protagonist at the end — did he make it to freedom or freeze to death in the snow? — and it makes for a lot of illuminating junior high school discussion.
So the more I reflect, perhaps this makes sense. Maybe this is “The Giver” adaptation we deserve, not the one we need right now.
“The Giver” was, for many, our first introduction to the fact that Life Is Pain and Memory Is Pain and All Things Are Pain And Bicycles Are For Horrible Socialists. Better to feel nothing strongly, to love nothing, not even your Comfort Object, to take nightly pills to stem the tide of your Stirrings, to embrace the dull, blanketing sameness. If you allow yourself to feel anything deeply, you will suffer, and nobody likes suffering. Nothing like inserting Taylor Swift into our most beloved childhood memories to drive this point home.
Still, it’s this kind of news that makes you hope the movie will be released before it hits theaters. If you take my meaning.