Lois Lowry’s 1993 dystopian novel The Giver – the upcoming film adaptation of which hit San Diego Comic-Con today – may be a staple on school curriculums and summer reading lists, but the film nonetheless has had its share of opponents over the years, even landing on banned book lists.
According to Lowry, speaking on a panel at Comic-Con, the controversy hangs on two sequences: one involving a father who kills his own baby, and even more so, a scene in which a 12-year-old boy bathes a naked elderly woman. The latter was cut from Philip Noyce’s film (in theaters Aug. 15). Star-producer Jeff Bridges revealed during the film’s SDCC panel that the cut disappointed Lowry because the author had jokingly volunteered to appear in the film as that old woman. “I really did want to cameo,” Lowry, 77, laughed. “Finally I’m old enough [to play that role] and they cut the scene from the movie.”
Asked by the panel’s moderator, Entertainment Weekly’s Anthony Breznican why she thought her work had been banned, Lowry replied, “I’ve never actually figured it out myself,” before citing the two scenes above that she said were largely taken out of context. “Those would be held up as, ‘This is disgusting, I don’t want my children to read this.’”
Bridges said he had fought to produce the movie for nearly two decades, acquiring the book’s film rights a full 18 years ago. He told the crowd that he wanted to make a film his kids could watch. He originally intended to also direct the book’s adaptation and cast his father Lloyd Bridges in the role of The Giver. “That controversy I think scared some financiers away, but it also inspired me, the energy of this thing.”
The Giver takes place in a future society that was rebuilt “from the ashes” of a devastated planet, one without war, pain or suffering but also one devoid of imagination or free will. When 16-year-old Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) is selected by the community to be its Receiver of Memories, his mind is awoken by The Giver (Bridges). Meryl Streep co-stars as the Chief Elder, who also serves as the chief antagonist when Jonas attempts to lead a revolt against this manufactured society.
Lowry doesn’t see the Chief Elder as evil, though, citing parallels between art and life: “It’s actually the same thing that happens when people try to ban the book,” she said. “They’re not evil people. They’re people who care about their children and want to protect their children. I always try to remember that when they write me letters saying, ‘Jesus would be ashamed of you.’