The Giver is perhaps one of the best novels that I have ever read and I’m so thankful that it’s required reading in schools all across the nation. For those who have read it, you should see the movie. For those who haven’t read it, you should read it and then see the movie. It’s really something special, that doesn’t get bogged down by trying to be too many things at once. It’s straight-forward, intellectual discussion about dystopia and it’s outstanding!
Utopia is supposed to be a near-perfect community that has no issues and all of its people are the same. Equality is everywhere and there’s no risk of war, death, confrontation, and all that other stuff. In this society, “sameness” ensures that emotion is purged from every citizen and that everyone sees in black & white. Young Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) is about to receive his job after finishing school and he spends most of his time with his friends Asher (Cameron Monaghan) and Fiona (Odeya Rush). During the ceremony that elects jobs for the newly graduated students, all but Jonas receive a job, leaving him and the community befuddled. He’s then told that he is to be the “Receiver of Memories” and will be training alongside a man known only as “The Giver” (Jeff Bridges).
For his training, Jonas is exempt from many of the societies rules, as he’s able to lie and can skip his morning injections. As the Receiver of Memories, Jonas is handed down the memories of societies from the past and is the go-to guy for wisdom when the Elders need it. As The Giver transfers memories of the past, Jonas experiences all walks of life and sees all the beauty that the world can hold. He questions why it went away and his curiosities don’t exactly please the Chief Elder (Meryl Streep). As Jonas learns more, he questions more and his family (Alexander Skarsgard, Katie Holmes, & Emma Tremblay) grows more concerned about him. Things get even more interesting when a young baby named Gabe exhibits the same gift that Jonas has. Jonas wants to liberate his society, but it’s going to be much harder than he thinks.
The Giver is the most genuinely pure look at dystopia, without all the prospects of revolution, sexual intimacy, and action that sometimes plagues others of its genre. Though it took nearly 20 years to be made into a film, I’m glad that we’re finally seeing a near-outstanding adaptation of an even more stellar book. The film is certainly a bit late to the dystopian film party, but better late than never, because this film is certainly something else entirely. This is a film that all who’ve read the book should seek out, but I’d also recommend taking younger kids to it too, as it teaches important messages, without getting wrapped up in extra fluff.
Brenton Thwaites was absolutely perfect in this film, as he captures the essence of what it is that makes us human. As he explores memories and has a new understanding of the world around him, the emotions on his face are more than enough to convey his sense of wonderment. He’s curious when he should be, confused when he’s overrun with all new emotions and feelings, and courageous when he needs to share his knowledge. Thwaites does a marvelous job in the role and his chemistry with Jeff Bridges also helps a lot. Bridges plays the part of The Giver perfectly as well, as he is the only one who knows anything about the past. All the emotions and memories are stored up inside him and he can never share that with anyone. When he’s with Thwaites, he shows him all the possibilities in our world and all the good, which brings him joy to watch Thwaites become mystified. Bridges also shines when the bad in humanity is explored and he can’t help but feel for Thwaites when he discovers war and all the bad people can do. Together, they make the best of teams.
Having read The Giver in 8th grade, I knew the story and how the film would play out, but I almost instantly forgot about it once the film started. I was so transfixed on the storytelling and use of imagery that I didn’t want the film to end. The film balances Black & White and color extremely well when perspective is shifting and the “sameness” in this world is always evident. Whether it’s everyone’s impeccable diction, android-like personalities, or their misunderstanding of the simplest things, it’s so intriguing to watch them live this lie, while Jonas sees everything entirely differently. This is a film that’s intellectually stimulating and because of that, you don’t need unnecessary action. One person gets punched in the face and there are two kisses in the movie. That’s as close as this film gets to The Hunger Games, or even Divergent. Some of the themes are certainly present in both of those, but The Giver did come first. I loved watching the exploration of humanity in this film and it does a great job of highlighting all the bad and why sameness was created, but also all the good that humanity brings and why people should be liberated.
There’s a slew of great secondary performances in this film, most notably that of Meryl Streep’s, which is the most subdued I’ve seen from her in a while. It was nice not having this film turn into the Meryl Streep show, as the focus should be on Thwaites, who steals the show. The characters and their interactions really sold a lot of this film, because most are androgynous and have no idea what they’re really saying, or doing. Every single person plays their part just right and because of that, Thwaites and Bridges are able to do their best too. In such an emotionless movie, we really see the absence of humanity in the characters eyes and the use of beautiful imagery is a perfect parallel to all of that. Though there may be some false sentimentality going on, I still loved watching bits and pieces of emotion flood back into some of the characters and especially Thwaites. For the most part, everything works really well and the story progresses without many speed-bumps.
If I take any issue with The Giver, it’s that it didn’t give me quite as much as I hoped it would. It’s only a 90-minute film that feels a bit longer than that, but I was left hoping for more. Things are certainly rushed at the end, but I just wanted some more time with Jonas and The Giver, because their scenes were the most interesting and most fun. The idea of sharing memories is fantastic and those scenes are really what stood out in this film. I need to see more of that, but I also could have used some more of Streep’s character, who’s only around in the beginning and the end. We don’t really get much information about what her motivations are and though we can tell that she knows more than she’s leading on, we don’t know what she knows, or how she knows it. She and Bridges share a great scene towards the end of the film, but there’s not a lot of setup to make it something truly special.
The Giver is easily one of the best first dystopian franchise films and I’d take it over Divergent and the first Hunger Games film any day. It gets you thinking about the essence of human nature and it explores what a Utopia would look like, if there were such a thing. It’s curiosity and exploration of the unknown that really drives us and I loved how much this film focused on that. I can’t praise Brenton Thwaites enough for his magnificent performance and I’m truly excited to see what becomes of his career. Were they to film the sequels to The Giver, I think that they already have a great start with this first film and Director Phillip Noyce certainly seems to know what he’s doing. It may not have everything you’ve come to expect from dystopian films and for that it may seem boring, but please believe me when I say that this film is anything but and it’s more than entertaining because it makes you think.
The Giver Trailer