As the only literate Reject, it’s my duty to find the latest, the greatest and the untouched classics that would make great source material for film adaptations. I read so you don’t have to. This week, Print to Projector presents:
by Lois Lowry
“It was almost December, and Jonas was beginning to be frightened.”
The ideal world as seen through the eyes of a 12-year old. No pain. No war. No poverty. Jonas seems a little different than everyone else in his class, and when he’s given the job of Receiver of Memories, he finally realizes what has been absent from his life and the lives of his family: true love, intense happiness, the rush of adventure. Now he faces a choice between letting everyone continue live in lobotomized bliss or give them the full range of experiences that will bring pain along with pleasure.
The Newberry award-winning novel is a “Brave New World” for kids. It’s one of the few books that resonates with young adults while not simply catering to simple sentence desires. It blends the writing style of youth with the deeper concepts of adulthood and explores specifically those changes through it’s main character Jonas as he starts to feel his Stirrings.
It features many of the same elements that other anti-Utopian novels like “1984” have – the police state that monitors its unaware inhabitants, the genetic engineering to create perfect family units, prescribed jobs for each student turning twelve. These are mainstays of a genre that seeks to show how pain prevention comes at too high a cost when art and love and beauty are sacrificed. The brilliance of this particular book is that it doesn’t begin as a nightmare or even with a creepy air that hints at the worst to come. Instead, Lowry creates an alluring world where everything is perfect. It’s not until Jonas begins having strange dreams about wanting to undress with his female classmate that we start to see the insidiousness of the town.
The theme there is undeniable, and, in fact, it may be the only book that uses the anti-Utopian angle to describe the difference between adolescence (Utopia), puberty (knowledge), and the adulthood (reality) that arrives on the other side.
The book is structured and written with a classic three-act structure that could easily be tossed right onto the screen. It could even be made with a fairly low budget considering a lack of effects and the intimacy of its drama. There are absolutely no hurdles in adapting this one.
Except for having the stones to make a young adult movie that realistically deals with sexual feelings and some of the startling imagery that Lowry put in the book. If producers can titillate 14-year olds by making Robert Pattinson go shirtless, I’m sure someone out there can deal with the true nature of those feelings without sensationalizing them. I realize it won’t sell many Thongs For Toddlers, but I’m sure the studio can figure out some great Burger King tie-in nonetheless.
How do you treat children like adults? How do you turn “1984” into something young adults would want to watch?
Honestly, there isn’t a huge task here to transfer the story into screenplay form. There is a ton of description in the novel as well as some sharp dialogue (that would need to be sharpened a bit more) and great character arcs. The true difficulty lies in the balance between writing a movie for kids and writing a movie for older teens. It can’t be a cartoon and it can’t be Twilight, which is why I’d love to see Pixar’s Pete Docter tackle this on both the writing and directing ends. His work on Up doesn’t have exactly the same themes, but the talent for dealing with tough issues in a safe and often straightforward way is clearly there. Above all else, his ability to create something that doesn’t talk down to children is paramount here.
Who is getting their Stirrings?:
An Unknown as Jonas: The difficulty of finding a capable young actor might be the biggest mountain to climb for this project. I’m almost tempted to change the sex of Jonas so that Chloe Moretz could play the part, but I honestly can’t think of any actors that are 12-14 who could pull off something like this. Jonas is the only one with a character arc – a young man who has to deal with severing the ties of his current life in order to live better and more vividly. Time to dig through a massive casting call.
Christopher Plummer as The Giver: I had some confusion about the age of the Giver, but the cover of the book that I remember in my required reading for elementary school featured a stringy-looking old guy on the front. This role would not be an easy one. It is a man who has carried the emotional burden for an entire town on his shoulders for years, a mentor figure who is stern but delicate, and a depressed vision of a man who secretly longs for his own death but maintains the optimism needed to see the future grow brighter. Plummer is a veteran, and although he usually plays villains, if he found his softer side he could really nail this part.
Joshua Molina as Jonas’s Father: In the novel, Jonas’s Father is a Nurturer – a man who takes care of babies all day. He’s shy and quiet which is Molina’s normal patter. Plus, he’s a strong actor that delivers a bit of sadness even when he’s overjoyed. Of course, he wouldn’t be able to display an emotion that severe because the character doesn’t know pain or exuberance.
Julianna Moore as Jonas’s Mother: Jonas’s Mother is a judge whose not fleshed out by her actions as well as the other characters. I love the idea of Moore as a severe mother figure that only has nominal care for her children but foresees and accepts her uselessness when they become adults in just a few short years. I also like the juxtaposition of how strong Moore can be with how weak Molina can be to knock home the sentiment that mates are paired by the state based on how well they will balance each other.
Who Owns It:
It’s a project that’s been in development for a long time. At one point, Fox owned the rights and was developing it for House of Sand and Fog director Vadim Perelman. Currently, the best intelligence points to Red Wagon Productions producing under the auspices of Warner Bros. IMBD shows the film with a 2011 release date, which is probably not going to happen unless the entire thing is flying under the radar.
A challenging book in many ways, it would fulfill a childhood dream of mine to see this film adapted. It’s a phenomenal book that is rightfully on many, many Summer Reading Lists, and I think that bringing it to life for the big screen would be another added dimension to children’s enjoyment of it. Of course, it might also give lazy young students an out for not reading the book itself, but that’s a chance we should all be willing to take.