2014 appears to be the year of films about similarly themed young adult science fiction stories, The Giver, opening in cinemas on August 15, does deviate a bit from the others in that this film is about sets of memories that are made up of all the pleasant and unpleasant things in life. This “utopian” society, so bland that it exists in a black and white world, has entrusted these remembrances to one member of society known as “The Receiver.” This person becomes known as “The Giver” when a new Receiver comes along to be trained.
This movie, starring Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Brenton Thwaites, Alexander Skarsgård, Katie Holmes and Odeya Rush, feels a lot like a toned down, cheaper version of Divergent. Granted, in the latter film, a female heroine is the focus and it is apparent from the first frame that utopian is not a word which anyone would use to describe Divergent. There are, however, a lot of similarities. In both films, the government have hidden and controlling agendas which keep the truth from the general populace.
The future worlds in each movie have also changed their societal structure to completely foreign concepts to humanity, with a lack of focus on family and more of a hive-like mentality where society is more important than one’s parents, siblings and individual wishes. In Divergent, the main protagonist, Tris is different from her peer group and in The Giver, so is Jonas.
Another similarity between the two science fiction settings are that in each film the city, or society, is protected from the rest of the world and what lies outside is a mystery. In both, that mystery is meant to remain so and it is not permitted to explore this unknown territory. Of course another thing which both movies share is that they are adapted from a series of books aimed at young adults or children.
In The Giver Jeff Bridges plays the societal Receiver. A man whose memories are made of things that this utopia want forgotten except for the strongest member of society. The film is about a second chance for Bridges’ character to train a new keeper of memories and Jonas’ being a savior for this dystopian and bland society. 10 years before, a new Receiver broke under the pressure of absorbing The Giver’s visions of all things past and when she quit, the girl was sent to “Elsewhere.”
The movie is also about controlling the populace with a combination of willful ignorance, drugs and a stern sort of respect for each society member. While the setting is meant to be utopian in nature, it also comes across as being boring to the extreme. *On a sidenote: During the ceremony where the teens are given their places in society, the audience in the film applaud by striking their thighs with one hand. After years of hearing the phrase, viewers can now experience…the sound of one hand clapping.*
All the “adult” actors in the film do splendidly in their various roles. Streep is impressive as the “Elder” who believes in the system, along with Katie Holmes as Jonas’ mother and elder legal rep for the population. Skarsgård as father and nurturer is convincing as the man who has a soft spot for the babies he either cares for or discards. The actor also has those same qualities that make Bill Pullman so popular, an innate likeability and a natural charm. Sadly none of these “elder” actors got enough screen time in the film.
Taylor Swift plays the girl Rosemary who is apparently The Giver’s daughter. When her character quits, it becomes apparent that “Elsewhere” means or equates to death, whether or not this is the same as in the book. Swift does a good job in this small role, enough so that hopefully the singer/songwriter starts appearing in more films with bigger roles.
In the film, Jonas turns out to be equally disturbed by the memories he is forced to “learn.” However the youngster continually breaks the rules by talking about his training and ultimately he refuses to quit. Fiona, Jonas’ friend, learns enough to put herself in danger.
When the movie opens in black and white, which is a device used in the 1993 book written by Lois Lowry, it works perfectly to aid the appearance of a society that has “bred out” any sort of excitement or emotion. Later, after Jonas finishes the first part of his training, he starts seeing colors. Sadly this “technique” has been used before, most specifically in the 1998 film Pleasantville, and this fact does take away from the value of its use in The Giver.
One real problem with the film is the age group featured. In the book, Jonas and his friends are meant to be around 12 years-old. Brenton Thwaites, despite being able to play much younger than his 25 years, does not, nor do his friends, look like a preteen or a young teen. 18 or 19 years-old yes, but not younger. This may not go down too well with fans of the books by Lowry.
Unfortunately, despite looking stunning, the film is as bland as its dystopian society is meant to be. Certainly the cinematography is crisp and concise and the sets practically scream futuristic sterile blandness. Another issue is Jonas’ maternal, or paternal, protectiveness of the baby Gabriel. When he “kidnaps” the infant to escape outside the boundaries of civilization, in an effort to allow everyone in the society to have their own memories, it feels more like a forced device to bring the film to a close than any sort of reality. This again, may be down to the age difference in the film versus the book.
It should also be pointed out that Odeya Rush, who plays Fiona, looks as though she could be Mila Kunis’ younger sister. The similarities are almost uncanny and it is most likely this resemblance that got the actress cast in the film. Rush does, however, have a decent set of acting chops regardless of why she got a role in the movie but is does show that Hollywood, or casting directors, still go for a “type” who resemble a popular “star.”
Memories that are made up of things that this society want forgotten except for one strong individual is the main plotline of The Giver. Adapted from a what is primarily a children’s book, the film may well be a hit with the younger set. The concept is intriguing, to a degree, with the older members of the audience but not enough to sustain the film for its entire running time. Bridges really does not do anything that spectacular, although he does turn in a solid performance and Thwaites does very well in his first really big starring role. The film opens countrywide on August 15 and those who want to see a young male science fiction protagonist for a change should check the movie out.
By Michael Smith