Review - The Giver

The Giver (2014), PG-13, 94 minutes - The Giver is based on the 1993 story of the same name written by Lois Lowry and is the latest post apocalyptic/sci-fi society young adult novel to be adapted to the big screen.  I've never read The Giver myself, but having been fourteen back in 1993, I was definitely a part of the target demographic and remember it being pretty popular among classmates.

This film version of The Giver takes place in a future utopian society created after an unnamed great war.  The elders who founded the community believed that the source of all misgivings and conflict in life was emotion.  They built a society devoid of emotion, which was accomplished by sterilizing the population of their memories and instituting a strict set of governing rules.  Everything from recognition of color (that of objects or even skin tone) to the enjoyment of music was lost, all in an effort for absolute equality.  The lack of emotion also means that no one has the desire to deviate from their assigned societal duties, which the elders assign to each citizen when they turn sixteen.  Only one person retains memory and knowledge of what came before the community was created: The Giver (Jeff Bridges).  The Giver's job is to consult the elders should a scenario arise that requires knowledge from the past such as the need for a unique medical treatment.

Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), Fiona (Odeya Rush), and Asher (Cameron Monaghan) are a trio of friends who are about to learn what their assignments will be.  The night before the ceremony, Jonas admits to his parents that he's scared of the uncertainty he feels about what his future may hold.  Those fears only grow when during the course of the ceremony, Jonas is skipped over, left for last as all of the other students receive their assignments (Fiona will be a nurturer and Asher a drone pilot).  The Chief Elder (Meryl Streep) explains that Jonas has a number of traits that made him capable of handling something more than the typical community assignments.  He is designated as The Receiver of Memory.  As such he will study with The Giver and eventually take his place as the holder and caretaker of all history and knowledge of what came before.  Of course as Jonas learns more and more about emotion and all of it's various forms, he doesn't understand why it has been suppressed and wants to share it with Fiona and Asher.  Asher takes his new role quite seriously and isn't as open to breaking rules as he was in their childhood.  Fiona struggles between adhering to the community's rules and her loyalty to her friend.  Jonas' training with The Giver continues, and he learns of pain, suffering and war - the things that drove the elders to eliminate memories in the first place.  He becomes aware of the horrors that are unknowingly committed within the community on a daily basis because no one knows any better.  Jonas decides that he has to return the memories of the past to the community so that they can determine right and wrong for themselves and no longer live under tight restrictions.

Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep lend their Academy Award winning pedigree to a cast that also includes Alexander Skarsgård (Jonas' father), Katie Holmes (Jonas' mother), Emma Tremblay (Jonas' sister Lilly), and Taylor Swift (Rosemary).  Streep is spot on in her rigidity and steadfastness to the letter of the law as one might expect from a Chief Elder in such a structured society.  Bridges balances the scales, regularly encouraging Jonas to break the communities rules in his quest for knowledge.  Skarsgård and Holmes are kind of creepy in their portrayal of model citizens, adhering to every rule and routinely correcting Jonas when he is perceived as 'acting out'.

The Giver doesn't have much in the way of special effects, but the Wizard of Oz/Pleasantville-esque change from black and white to color over the course of the story was a nice touch.  The lack of uniqueness makes for very stark and uniform set design within the community which succeeds in portraying a futuristic look by omission.

In my opinion, it seemed like The Giver could have delved a bit deeper into some of the aspects of the story.  There's a moment between Jonas and Asher that doesn't quite feel earned and I have questions about Jonas' quest of restoring everyone's memories (I'll elaborate in the spoiler section below), but all in all it was entertaining. I think the film suffers most from the timing of its release.  Some of the themes explored are very similar to those from The Hunger Games or Divergent, and even though Lowry's source material far pre-dates either of those franchises, this adaptation of The Giver - through no fault of its own - has a bit of a run of the mill feel to it.  If you're a fan of the numerous young adult inspired film adaptations or the original book itself, this is probably worth a look.  I'd definitely be interested to hear from anyone who has read the book to see how well it was adapted.


- question(s) in regards to Jonas' quest to cross the border and restore memory to the community - they go out of their way to explain that climate control is part of the community, meaning there is no need for any winter weather gear.  Yet when Jonas gets to the mountainous region of 'elsewhere' not only is he bundled up in heavier clothing, but Gabriel is as well.  I know that Jonas packed a bag before he took off, but no one said he brought Mary Poppins' bottomless bag with him.  Where'd he get all of the extra clothing and supplies for Gabriel?  Jonas says he passed on memories of strength and toughness to Gabriel, but that's not going to keep an infant alive in extreme weather conditions.

- There's also no explanation of the technology that somehow keeps memories of the past outside the boundaries of 'elsewhere' and away from the community.  Even a quick sci-fi mumbo jumbo explanation would have been nice.

- I liked that Asher decided to have faith in his friend, it just didn't really feel like there had been enough of a relationship shown between the two to make it believable.  

- Apparently the other three books in The Giver Quartet are set in the same community, but are told from differing character viewpoints.  It makes me wonder if this was meant to be a stand alone film or if sequels were planned depending on its success.  


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