John Lennon’s iconic 1971 musical composition Imagine entreats listeners to imagine life without differences. No Color. No Religion. No Country. Nothing sacred to live or die for. Imagine all of the people of the world living life in peace. For decades now those lyrics have been heralded as a global peace anthem.
Fast forward to 2014. Lois Lowry’s book The Giver is fashioned into a major motion picture starring Brenton Thwaites, Meryl Streep, Jeff Bridges and Katie Holmes. The premise is exactly as described by Lennon over 40 years ago. Human beings are living in a seemingly utopian society, and yet it is ultimately depicted as inhumane and sinister.
In this society every home is alike. While every child has a birth parent, the child will not be nurtured by that parent. It will be nurtured by others and then placed into a family setting. Hence, there are no blood allegiances. There are no nationalities. No one covets the belongings of another because everyone has the same material possessions.
While all seems apparently warm and fuzzy, a more disturbing aspect is also revealed. Their emotions and sense of desire, love, hate, fear, lust, etcetera have been muted. Such feelings virtually do not exist. There is no comprehension of music, ergo they do not dance. There is no jealousy, no hatred, no murder, but conversely there is also no splendor.
Enter in young Jonas portrayed Brenton Thwaites (Maleficent). He and his two best friends Fiona (Odeya Rush of The Odd Life of Timothy Green) and Asher (Cameron Monaghan of Corey and Lucas For The Win) have all come of age and will be assigned careers. While everyone in Jonas’ world seems content and compliant, Jonas realizes that he sees something different. Something that he cannot explain. His unexpressed thoughts are validated when he is not picked for an ordinary career but singled out for an exclusive job as a Receiver of Memory.
Only one human being can be chosen as a Receiver of Memory and Jonas is the chosen one. The Receiver of Memory is trained under the auspices of The Giver (Jeff Bridges). In essence the Receiver of Memory is provided with aspects of the real human world that is being shielded from the population for the ongoing betterment of their society.
The more Jonas learns from The Giver, the more he realizes that the world they all reside in is indeed rooted in nefarious constructs. He cannot contain his contempt and soon enough embarks on a mission to unveil the dark shroud that envelops his society in an emotional matrix of sorts.
Thwaites as Jonas is utterly charming. He is a believable and handsome young actor with a certain career ahead of him. He is well cast as Jonas. However, there are not many other notable performances in this production aside from Jeff Bridges as The Giver. Even the incomparable Meryl Streep’s performance as the Chief Elder is lackluster, stiff and boring. It is not her fault. The character is one-dimensional and the part is small.
Bridges not surprisingly delivers a polished performance that classes-up the production. That being said, while a sure chemistry exists between Bridges and Thwaites, there was not much more this film had to offer with respect to presentation. Katie Holmes co-stars as Jonas’ mother, and her performance is, as usual, about as engaging as watching the blades spin on a window fan. Singer Taylor Swift makes a small appearance in the film and delivers a performance that is surprisingly crafty and convincing.
It became painfully evident by the end of this film that it might behoove one to read the original Lois Lowry book. Audiences may be left with more nagging questions than answers during the finale, and this most certainly does not serve the production well.
The answers may or may not exist within the pages of the book. The film, however, sorely misses its mark. Perhaps it should have been longer. Audiences can indeed be forgiving of a longer than usual production if it serves to entertain and leaves them with a sense of satisfaction.
Viewers are left enchanted by the premise of this story. As well, both Bridges and Thwaites were a pleasure to watch on-screen, but ultimately the production leaves the audience wanting for more.
Directed by Phillip Noyce (Salt) and penned for the screen by Michael Mitnick (his first screenplay) and Robert B. Weide (executive producer of Curb Your Enthusiasm), The Giver runs 94 minutes and is rated PG13. This film could have been a masterpiece but is instead forgettable, and it is doubtful that the same can be said of the book.
The Giver rates three and half out of five stars. It opens in wide release on Friday, August 15.
Review by Janet Walters Levite