Based on the 1993 best-selling book by Louis Lowry, The Giver is set in 2048, after a catastrophic world event, referred to only as The Ruin. Instead of a desolate wasteland, humanity continues on in what appears to be a utopian society where violence, jealousy, pain and emotion are absent. Words like ‘family’, ‘home’, ‘fear’ and ‘love’ are mere remnants of a time forgotten. Society is bound by sensible rules. Do not lie. Don’t leave your ‘dwelling’ at night. Two babies per family unit. “Release” excess babies and the elderly to Elsewhere… wait, what?!!!
Obviously with dystopian teen films being all the rage right now, this is an obvious mislead and we are soon exposed to some of the inhumane methods of controlling society.
Without going into too much detail, The Giver portrays an ideal world free from all the terrible things we see and experience in modern society. However to achieve this perfect world, an important part of being human has been taken away… choice.
People are allocated jobs within the ‘community’ at annual ceremonies. This is where our protagonist, Jonas is uniquely selected to become the 'Receiver of Memory' and is to be mentored by 'The Giver', played by Jeff Bridges, who will transfer his knowledge and memories of the world’s past and introduce him to feelings, emotions and dreams.
Ultimately this changes Jonas’ perception of the current world and the way society has been forced to live. I appreciated how Jonas’ ‘awakening’, I guess you’d call it, is shown on screen through the use of black and white (society no longer see in colour, apparently this removes the identification of race, yeah... sure) and slowly introducing colour as he experiences more of the past from The Giver, through some kind of telekinesis-monkey-grip transfer process.
Jonas is introduced to many wonders of a world long forgotten but is also subjected to the brutality and evils of humanity, albeit too early into his training; but he manages to overcome the stress and fear and ultimately plans to free society from its unbeknownst control and conformity and return the memories of the past to everyone.
The film looks great, the world, while not huge in scale is presented brilliantly. I have a great appreciation of filmmakers who understand the power of art direction and are able to create such believable worlds for me to escape into for 120 minutes or less. Director, Philip Noyce has done an excellent job creating this world and Ross Emery’s dark and clinical cinematography feels like a perfect choice for the dystopian genre.
Jeff Bridges (who optioned the film rights to Lowry’s publication and serves as Producer), Meryl Streep and Australian ‘Home & Away’ star Brenton Thwaites all deliver great performances. Katie Holmes and Alexander Skarsgård, while believable, occasionally feel a bit too robotic and overdone compared to the leading characters and other members of the community.
Overall The Giver is a solid film with creepy undertones and slight similarities to Soylent Green, The Matrix, Divergent and The Hunger Games, the latter I’m sure took inspiration from this source material. It delivers an interesting look at a near-future society with no more fear, pain and suffering and demonstrates how impossible it would be to maintain such a reality… but we already knew that. Love conquers all. Nature finds a way. Boring.
The Giver falls short right at the end, when it mattered most. I was left a bit dazed and unfulfilled. I never really grew to appreciate any of the characters and was underwhelmed with the ending and its lack of technical explanation. It got a bit too symbolic there for its own good. Perhaps more is revealed in the novel, which I haven’t read, or maybe I missed something (feel free to abuse me in the comments).
I enjoyed The Giver and appreciate its sentiments; it finds a comfortable position within the slew of other current dystopian-teen films, but unfortunately it’s not strong enough to become a leader in this genre.
I’m giving The Giver 5 bobsleds out of 10.