The Giver



Pain makes life colorful in dystopian adaptation.
Parents recommendPopular with kids
  • Review Date: August 15, 2014
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2014
  • Running Time: 94 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

The movie's themes and messages echo the book's: how Sameness has eradicated personal expression, how conformity is a threat to individuality, how having no choices for the sake of equality is really oppression, and more. The movie also tackles the tough subject of whether pain is necessary for joy and whether love and heartbreak are preferable to stability and community.

Positive role models

The Giver is a complicated character because he seems so sad and unhappy, but it's for an understandable reason. He's patient and teaches Jonas and encourages him to see the world for how it really is.


Jonas punches his friend in the face after a confrontation. Two people await lethal injection. An entire society has no idea that the term "releasing" means killing, so when a man "releases" a baby, or a group is told they're being "released," no one but Jonas and the Giver know what's happening. The Giver and Jonas have violent, disturbing dreams and visions of past horrors.


Some hand holding, longing looks, and a couple of kisses. Discussion of how the community handles adolescent "stirrings."


No language, since in the community, people don't curse.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know the The Giver is a dystopian thriller based on author Lois Lowry's best-selling 1993 novel (which has sparked some controversy since its publication and landed on some banned-book lists). Since the novel is commonly used in middle school classrooms, the adaptation will appeal to tweens and teens who've read and loved it. Although there are some fundamental changes from the book (like the age of Jonas, the main character), the movie shares the book's central themes about the things that make life worth living, even if they're painful. The violent revelations are disturbing, especially ugly truths about what it means when citizens (including a baby) are "released into Elsewhere," but the movie isn't nearly as violent as comparable movies like The Hunger Games or Divergent. Like the movie, the book should launch some thoughtful conversations about totalitarianism, freedom of expression, and why utopian societies fail.

What's the story?

THE GIVER takes place in a futuristic utopian society called "the community," where, at age 16, residents prepare for their coming-of-age ceremony, where they're assigned a specific job -- like birth mother, nurturer, teacher, or security. Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) is surprised when, at the Ceremony for Advancement, the Chief Elder (Meryl Streep) announces that Jonas has been selected as the newest Receiver of Memory -- the one person in the community to understand all the pain and truths that the rest of the society is spared. His teacher will be The Giver of Memory (Jeff Bridges), who will impart all of his knowledge. But as Jonas begins his sessions with The Giver, he also starts seeing things as they really are, not as the community wants them to be -- he sees in color (everyone else sees in black and white) and develops feelings for his friend, Fiona (Odeya Rush). Worst of all, Jonas realizes that life with pain is preferable to the "Sameness" on which the community is based.

Is it any good?


As anyone who has read Lois Lowry's source novel will immediately notice, the movie's Jonas is five years older than he is in the book (and Thwaites was actually already in his 20s while filming!), making him a full adolescent as opposed to being on the cusp of puberty. While the aging up works when it comes to focusing on the central romantic subplot, it may upset the tweens and younger teens who related to Jonas' journey precisely because he was their age, not a teen on the brink of adulthood like the majority of young adult protagonists. But more bothersome is the fact that viewers -- unlike readers -- are limited in their connection to the cinematic Jonas and what's going on in the community, because it's not really an action story like Divergent -- it's a story of ideas that's better experienced on the page.

Of all the actors, Alexander Skarsgard (as Jonas' father) does the most subtle work, portraying how, even in such a tightly controlled society, some individuals are more loving and nurturing, even if they don't fully understand what love means. Katie Holmes (as Jonas' mother) and Streep both play unquestioning proponents of Sameness, and Rush sure is beautiful, but because feelings are manipulated in the community, The Giver is not a romance on the swoony level of Katniss and Peeta's or Tris and Four's. The characters in the community, with the exception of Jonas and the Giver, must by their very nature act eerily dispassionate, even-keeled, and neutral about everything -- even throwing a dead baby down a garbage chute. That flatness, which is so freaky in the book, doesn't work quite as well on the screen, but this is still an adaptation worth seeing, particularly for the conversations you can have once the credits roll.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the popularity of dystopian settings in young adult literature and movies. What is it about futuristic stories that appeals to readers and viewers?

  • How would you describe the violence in this movie? Is it scary? Disturbing? Why? Are there other parts of the movie that are nonviolent but also upsetting? How do they compare?

  • It took more than 20 years after the book was published for The Giver to hit the big screen. How do you think that timing affected its impact?

  • Fans of the book: Was the movie a faithful adaptation? What differences did/didn't you like, and which scenes from the book did you miss?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:August 15, 2014
DVD release date:November 25, 2014
Cast:Alexander Skarsgard, Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Brenton Thwaites
Director:Phillip Noyce
Studio:Weinstein Co.
Topics:Book characters
Run time:94 minutes
MPAA rating:PG-13
MPAA explanation:a mature thematic image and some sci-fi action/violence

This review of The Giver was written by

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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What parents and kids say

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Parent of a 8, 10, and 12 year old Written byhelpfulparent August 22, 2014

Exemplary Dystopian Movie--iffy for kids under eleven

My twelve-year-old daughter was dying to see this movie for her birthday. I took her and my ten-year-old son. All three of us were quite pleased, but there are some things parents should be aware of. This movie is dystopian, meaning it is a science fiction place where humans are lead dehumanized. Some of the themes in this movie may disconcert some younger viewers. They live in a world where memories are stolen. My twelve-year-old understood the concept, but my ten-year-old couldn't understand. There are some themes relative to death, poaching, and war. Some people (even babies) are released. The community doesn't understand what releasing someone actually is. It is killing them. Jonas is shown visions of war. You see people getting shot and a little blood from a gunshot wound. He also sees visions of poaching. Elephants are shot on-screen and fall. There are mild sexual references that will probably go over your child's head. Jonas took a pill for nightly "stirrings," an obvious reference to erections, arousal, and sexual attraction. Jonas becomes attracted to Fiona and even kisses her. I'd recommend this movie for anyone twelve and up. Ten and eleven year old children can see it, but I recommend watching it with them to cover their eyes and explain the scenario.
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Too much violence
Too much sex
Parent of a 10 and 13 year old Written byMarshlady August 15, 2014

Adults and tweens loved it

Took my 13 year old daughter and her friend to see it. They had read it in school this past year. Both actually liked the movie even better than the book...said it was more exciting. I didn't take my ten year old which I think was the right choice. I don't think she would have found it too disturbing, but she probably wouldn't be able to fully appreciate the underlying topics.
What other families should know
Great messages
Parent Written bycherib1 February 3, 2015

Really great and thought provoking!!

The message is very intense with very spiritual undertones. My son wants to read the book!!!


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