The Giver (The Weinstein Company)
Rated PG-13 for a mature thematic image and some sci-fi action/violence.
Starring Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Brenton Thwaites, Alexander Skarsgård, Katie Holmes, Odeya Rush, Cameron Monaghan, Taylor Swift, Emma Tremblay.
Written by Michael Mitnick and Robert B. Weide, based on the book by Lois Lowry.
Directed by Phillip Noyce.
One has to wonder when Hollywood will run out of successful young adult literature as source material for movies. They’ve already run out of lame TV show adaptations and still can’t help themselves when it comes to re-boots. It was only a matter of time before Lois Lowry’s The Giver got the big screen treatment, so here comes yet another dystopian teen drama.
The Giver is set in the distant future, where humanity is sorted out into peaceful, planned communities where nothing ever seems to go wrong. The population is ruled by “The Elders” who demand conformity of language and practice extreme social engineering, complete with drugs that make people behave and see everything in black and white. When the children reach maturity, they are placed in jobs that the elders see fit. One of the graduates is Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), a young man who has the ability to see beyond the bland existence. The Chief Elder (Meryl Streep) singles Jonas out as the “receiver of memories,” a job that places him under the tutelage of the man he’s supposed to replace, referred to as “The Giver” (Jeff Bridges) of memories. The purpose of giving memories is to make sure no one forgets all the wars, famines and destruction that led to the “time of ruin.”
While training with The Giver, Jonas experiences memories and images of the past. At first, all the memories are pleasant, like love, marriage, family and celebrations. Seeing all this joy leads Jonas to break a few rules and try to romance his best gal-pal Fiona (Odeya Rush). He also gains a fondness for infant boy (placed in his family’s care by the elders) named Gabriel. The Giver eventually shows Jonas the ugliness of the past, including, war, hate and conflict. He also shows Jonas glimpse of his last protégé named Rosemary (Taylor Swift) and how she failed at becoming an acceptable receiver of memories years before.
When Jonas discovers what the elders are doing to babies and older folks who no longer fit in their perfect Utopian world, he conspires with The Giver to escape and go beyond the boundaries of the human world in order to release all the memories to the people so that they can once again choose their own path.
The Giver (as I’m told) is a movie much different than the book; changing up characters and outcomes – but the essence of the story is still there. It’s odd whenever a major Hollywood film accidentally releases a film that has such strong libertarian themes (i.e. Hunger Games, The Lego Movie, etc.). The Giver is a story about the importance of making choices – good and bad, no matter the outcome. Lois Lowry’s theme throws social engineering under the bus, and perhaps that’s a good thing (depending on how you feel about current political/social discussions).
The look and feel of The Giver is not altogether unique, but it’s sufficient to get the point across: Living in perfect, climate-controlled boxes isn’t much fun, even though it’s nice and clean.
Jeff Bridges (who is also one of the film’s producers) is the strongest presence in The Giver, while Meryl Streep does a great job as the creepy control-freak-in-charge. Other cast members are adequate, including Thwaites, Rush and Katie Holmes as Jonas’ mother.
While the message is noteworthy, The Giver is not a great film. Even so, while it suffers from a lot of unexplained plot holes and cinematic conveniences, the movie does a sufficient job of teaching the difference between comfort and living.