Screen adaptations of books never stick to the source material completely, and the big screen version of The Giver is no exception. While the story is very similar to the one Lois Lowry wrote in her award-winning novel, the differences between the two versions are noticeable. Here are 7 of them.
1) The film over-delivers on explanation
It's a bit unfair to start with this one because film, by virtue of its medium, cannot be as subtle as literature (for the most part). But one of the things I appreciate about Lowry's writing is that the mystery of Jonas's world is very slow to unfold. In the film, almost an entire third of Lowry's book happens on-screen within the first few scenes. Characters are developed very quickly, and, as a result, the film loses some of the uneasy ambiguity of the book. Granted, because films are limited by time, they have to be more fast-moving than books, which can take a few pages or even chapters to hint at one minor plot point.
2) On screen, Jonas is a (hunky) young man
In the book, much is made about characters' ages. In fact, in the world of The Giver, the calendar seems to center on a Ceremony which marks the aging of children from one year to the next. When the book opens, Jonas is about to become a Twelve, which means he will be given his community Assignment. Jonas' young age makes him the prefect protagonist for a story in which he discovers the depth of human emotion as he simultaneously expands his vocabulary. By making the movie Jonas slightly older — 16 years old — the film loses some of the innocent quality of the Lowry's hero. Still, it's worth noting that Brenton Thwaites does bring a youthful naivety and charm to the role, and so Lowry's vision remains largely intact.
3) Meryl Streep's character was a much smaller part of the book
Streep is absolute gold and her character was a great addition to the movie. But you should know that the character she's based on, the Chief Elder, isn't nearly as important a character in Lowry's novel.
4) Jonas doesn't kiss Fiona in the book
Unsurprisingly, the Jonas/Fiona relationship was given the Hollywood Young Adult Movie treatment. In the book, there are hints that Jonas does have strong but unexplained feelings toward Fiona (Odeya Rush) — the book calls the feelings "Stirrings." The fact that Jonas is able to "see beyond" the gray color of Fiona's hair to its original red also suggests that the two of them share a special bond. But in the book, he doesn't really act on his Stirrings toward Fiona, probably because, well, he's only a Twelve.
5) Fiona isn't assigned to be a Nurturer in the book
This one might not seem like it changes anything about the overall story, and I mostly agree. There is, however, one small part of me that wishes Hollywood would have kept its hands off Fiona's Assignment. In the book, the job Fiona ends up getting assigned to is something much less sexy than the job of taking care of babies. In Lowry's original story, Fiona is assigned to be a Caretaker of the Old.
That means the young Twelve is tasked with caring for the elderly of her society, with bathing them and helping make them as comfortable as possible just before they are euthanized, or "released." Obviously, it would have been difficult to show Fiona and Jonas bathing naked old people, and so it makes sense that this part was written out. At the same time, Lowry's novel stands as a warning to a society that seems to have a certain disregard for its elders, an element the film loses.
6) Asher isn't a pilot, and Jonas doesn't punch him
Again, this was a strategic change made to help with the momentum of the film adaptation. In the book, Asher (Cameron Monaghan) is assigned to be the Assistant Director of Recreation. On screen, he's made a Pilot, which helps add an additional layer of drama to the end of the film when Jonas flees from the authorities, and Asher is sent to search for him.
7) The film's ending is less ambiguous than the book's
Both versions of the story end with Jonas and Gabe sledding down a snowy mountain toward a home that the Giver had showed him in a previous memory. The way that the book ends makes it uncertain as to whether or not the two children actually make it to the abode. In the film, the last shot deliberately features Jonas, babe in tow, walking up to the snow-covered home. The variation between the two endings is slight, but it's worth noting that Lowry's final paragraphs probably had less appeal to producers than the one that ended up on the big screen.