'The Giver' stays true to the message if not the story in Lois Lowry's popular adolescent novel
PHOTO BY AS IS PRODUCTIONS
Where is it playing?: Parks Plaza
What's it rated?: PG-13
What's it worth?: $7.00
What's it worth?: $7.00
Based on the novel by Lois Lowry, The Giver is the story of Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), who lives in a perfect world where everyone is happy. At his coming-of-age ceremony, he’s chosen by his community to be The Receiver of Memories, meaning that he’ll be trained by an old man called The Giver (Jeff Bridges), who’ll teach Jonas about sadness, pain, war, and all the other negative aspects of the “real” world. Now that Jonas is confronted by the truth and knowledge that his world is fake, he must decide what to do. The film, directed by Phillip Noyce (Salt, Rabbit-Proof Fence, The Bone Collector, Clear and Present Danger, Patriot Games, Dead Calm), also stars Meryl Streep, Alexander Skarsgård, Katie Holmes, and Taylor Swift. (94 min.)
Glen: I was sort of expecting this film to be terrible. The book was assigned to our son’s sixth grade class, and its main conceit is pretty simple: Would you rather live in a world thankfully devoid of sadness, war, and disorder but likewise missing true pleasure, intimacy, and happiness? Or would you rather accept the world as it is—warts and all—with people capable of delirious happiness and heartfelt kindness but also utter sadness and cruelty? Or to state it in the vernacular of The Matrix, would you take the red pill or the blue pill? As a visual representation for this choice, the film opens in black and white, but as Jonas begins to learn about real emotions—both good and bad—his world starts to take on color, first just some objects, or just a hint of color throughout, but the more he learns, the more saturated the color becomes. Think Pleasantville—a world of possibilities opens up, and with the guidance of The Giver, he must decide whether or not to make a journey to the border of his world, that if breeched allows all the memories to come flooding back, changing his community forever. Despite how sappy this all sounds—and it is pretty sappy—it’s also earnest and sweet. It’s a great lesson for adolescents navigating their changing emotions.
Anna: I was also pleasantly surprised by this film. It was sweet and earnest without being overly saccharine. I appreciated that the filmmakers kept the film fairly brief while still driving home the main moral of the story: Life with emotion, with love, and even with pain is better than no love, no pain, and no emotion. Lois Lowry’s book The Giver is an introspective work, quiet, and with little action. This can be tough to translate to film; this world of sameness and quiet can easily become boring. There was definitely more action in the film than I remember in the book, meaning the film loses a bit of the subtlety and nuance the book has. The film also portrays Jonas as a teenager—around 17 or 18—instead of the young 12-year-old boy he’s written as in Lowry’s classic. This let the writers introduce a romantic element to the film that the book had very little of, and that feeling of love seemed to drive Jonas to action more than anything else.
Glen: Every person in Jonas’ world begins his or her day with an injection, which Jonas learns dulls emotions, so he starts tricking the injection machine by putting a dab of his blood on an apple, and then having the machine inject the apple. This speeds his transformation into an increasingly empathetic and emotional person, who soon falls in love with his childhood friend Fiona (Odeya Rush), whom he also encourages to trick the machine. Meanwhile, his father (Skarsgård), a nurturer who cares for (and sometimes euthanizes if they’re not up to weight) the community’s newchildren, as they’re called, brings home a struggling infant named Gabriel, who he hopes will thrive with more attention. Jonas has an immediate connection to the child, who, like him, has a birthmark that suggests Gabriel will grow up to be a Receiver of Memories. When Jonas learns Gabriel is to be “released” into “elsewhere,” just like the community’s old people, his faith in the system finally and completely crumbles. His society didn’t get rid of pain and death; it only masked the pain and hid the death behind euphemistic terms. It’s a world where newchildren are raised by strangers and placed in families, where the old are euthanized. Think of the story as Brave New World-lite. Look, despite A-listers like Streep and Bridges, the film’s not going to win any Academy Awards, and from what I’ve read, it was many years in development as Bridges originally optioned the film with the idea it would star his father Lloyd as The Giver, but it’s an easy way to spend 94 minutes, and the message is one of hope in humanity. Maybe it’s misguided hope, but sometimes hope is all we’ve got.
Anna: I think that it will be easier for those who haven’t read the book to enjoy the film. If you have read it, it’s better to go into this film not expecting it to hold true to every element of the story told in the book. If you can let yourself enjoy the story, despite subtle and not-so-subtle changes throughout, The Giver is a good flick with honest and endearing moments. It’s obviously a beloved story to Bridges, and you can see his love for the story in his portrayal of The Giver. His exchange with Streep in the final moments of the film are especially touching, arguing the right to love, loss, and every emotion in between. In the end, it’s a very sweet, relatable tale that will make you grateful for the subtle beauty in everyday life.
Sun Screen is written by New Times staff writer Glen Starkey and his wife Anna. Comment at email@example.com.