While dystopian films have always been fashionable, they have widely grown in popularity since the success of movies such as “The Hunger Games” and “The Matrix.” At this point, “The Giver” is old news, centering on a theme that has been developed previously on-screen.
“The Giver,” based on Lois Lowry’s 1993 novel, features the creation of a perfect society run by a council of elders. The society is completely devoid of all emotion and color – a theme the style of the film accurately portrays. After the Ruin, a war that destroyed most of civilization, the elders create the idea of Sameness, stripping away both the evil and the good by removing all differences and feelings from society.
The council watches the children as they grow, with the goal of eventually assigning them to their proper roles in society. Brenton Thwaites stars as Jonas, a young man with a special birthmark on his wrist who is assigned to the unique role of the receiver – he is the only person in the community to learn and store the earth’s history in the form of memories. The Giver (Jeff Bridges), who has the same birthmark, guides and teaches Jonas to see both the pain and pleasure that lie outside the world of Sameness. By grasping Jonas’ arms and placing birthmark over birthmark, the Giver transfers the history of the world – memory by memory – to Jonas, so that Jonas may provide wisdom to the townspeople if needed.
The beginning of the movie is very slow, almost boring. Viewers are given the perspective of Sameness that the citizens have by showing the picture in black and white rather than in color. As the film progresses, the picture slowly changes to a shadowy color, and finally a bright color, as Jonas’ view of the world around him grows and develops.
“The Giver” picks up speed about midway but never reaches an interesting speed. However, “The Giver” is powerful because it portrays to the audience what it is like for the characters to experience emotion for the first time through intense moments of joy, agony and fear. Instanteneous and intense scenes of sunsets, hunting and even murder slice the screen, relaying to the audience fractions of Jonas’ joy and anger
But as Jonas begins to grasp the corruption in the world around him, he reaches out to others and tries to teach them about the loss that Sameness has created for society. Meryl Streep is excellent, yet again, as the Chief Elder, who tries to prevent Jonas from upsetting the balance that she and the counsel of elders have maintained. Streep adapts an icy and cruel disposition, much like that of her former role of Miranda Priestly in “The Devil Wears Prada.” Streep perfects the role of Chief Elder; she is emotionless yet aggressive.
“The Giver” is also made powerful by the role of its supporting actors. Katie Holmes plays Mother, while Alexander Skarsgard plays Father. The actors are placed into one-dimensional roles that are obedient and unquestioning. Their performances are sterile and a little too forced at times, but that only shows the full extent of the brainwashing within the society and reinforces the theme of the movie.
The beautiful Fiona (Odeya Rush), Jonas’ childhood friend, blossoms throughout the film as she learns to feel true affection and love – while both Jonas and the audience see her visually transition from black and white to color. Rush’s performance is divine, especially when she begins the transition from a lifeless drone into an emotional character, simultaneously indicating how society has stunted her development.
Perhaps the strongest part of the movie is the liveliness of Gabriel, an infant to whom Jonas grows attached. Gabriel is very much alive and does not suffer from the loss of emotion. His innocence and vivacity, alongside Jonas and the Giver, create a strong contrast with the other members in the society.
The movie adapts well onto the screen from its original form as a novel. The plotline remains intriguing and develops cliff-hangers and complex themes that adults can relate to. The cinematography and images include many close-ups of characters, allowing their internal struggles to be clearly visible. The setting also demonstrates the blandness of life as a plateau – on which hundreds of cement blockhouses rest – rises out of the fog.
The only fault “The Giver” may hold is that when compared to other similar films, it does not have an action-packed climax but instead relies on the confusion of emotions. It lacks the thrilling scenes that viewers may expect when Jonas begins to understand life around him. While great in a novel, these feelings are almost taciturn in Jonas’ voice-over on screen.
Together, the cast brings together a children’s book, and makes it into a movie fit for adults.
– Alicia Sontag