Why Jeff Bridges Spent Nearly Two Decades Adapting ‘The Giver’

Lois Lowry’s YA novel The Giver has been a popular book in school libraries across the world since it came out in 1994. And the movie coming out today is the result of a process that took more than a decade and was driven by, of all people, The Dude himself, Jeff Bridges.

The Giver is a fairly simple book in terms of plot. Jonas, our hero, lives in a community where there’s no privacy and everyone follows a strict set of rules, right down to not perceiving color. Jonas is assigned the job of the Receiver, the one person who, essentially, is allowed to be human, so the rest of humanity can consult him on thorny problems they don’t understand. Needless to say, dumping the entire cultural memory of the human race on a kid ends badly, and upon discovering that a baby that has been assigned to his family will be killed, he takes the kid and sprints for the wilderness.

Being as it was an incredibly dark book, it was a huge hit. Bill Cosby took a crack at it right when it was published, but couldn’t make it work. Bridges discovered the book through his daughter back when it was published and immediately thought it was a great role… for his father, Lloyd Bridges. So Bridges got the rights to the book… and spent nearly a decade trying to get the movie made before the rights were swept out from under him by Warner Bros.

Warners couldn’t make it work either, and after another five years, Bridges finally got his shot, largely thanks to the YA adaptation fad. By then, his father had passed away, and Bridges found himself taking the title role.

The movie itself is… OK. Truthfully the production history is more interesting than the movie that came from it. But Bridges works. Honestly, it’s despite the script; in the book, the Giver is a much more complex and not entirely friendly character, with hints that being the only one who remembers famine and war has worn at his psyche in ways even he doesn’t quite realize.

But, especially if you know the backstory and the fact that Bridges spent twenty years working on this movie, it’s arresting to see him on screen, not least because he slips, occasionally, into his father’s mannerisms. If there’s one person who cares on the screen, it’s the man who built this for his father, only to find him gone. It’s a bittersweet end to two decades of work.