The Giver Hits the Big Screen
by Sam Brigham on Friday, September 19th, 2014
Unlike many movies of its kind, The Giver exemplifies a director’s ability to use imagination and creativity to break free of a book’s mold. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the story, The Giver focuses on lives in a seemingly utopian “Community.” The inhabitants of the Community are free of pain and anger, while also devoid of love, creativity, and all but the most basic and bland forms of emotion. Every child is assigned to his or her career at age 12 in an attempt to avoid the pain of selecting an undesirable job. The so-called Elders choose the character Jonas to be the “Receiver of Memories.” In this position, Jonas receives memories from the distant past that are handed down through generations of “receivers.” He learns of the great things in life that are absent from the Community and vows to discover and share them with others; however, his attitude marks him a rebel in the society.
Despite the intricate philosophies present in The Giver, the text gave director Phillip Noyce and his production team very little to work with visually. The book lacks physical description of setting, buildings, people, or action. In the movie, the entire Community sits atop an enormous plateau with impossibly high cliffs on either side. This setting of a plateau surrounded by a perilous drop and a permanent layer of clouds explains why few people have ever wandered from the Community. Noyce appropriately designed a moderately sized, science-fiction type city, full of identical dwellings that essentially resemble today’s hip, environmentally friendly homes. Similar to the setting of “The Hunger Games,” technology is used in an unusual balance. Homes have excellent computer displays and advanced devices, but the population has little access to transportation or weapons. The arrangement works well, adding a very futuristic feel to the movie while still depicting a somewhat subdued populace.
The movie has an impressive cast. The writers increased Jonas and his friends’ ages to 18, allowing the production team to cast adults, most importantly Australian actor Brenton Thwaites, 25, in the role of Jonas. He brings a mature yet youthful presence to his role. Meryl Streep’s serious and authoritative pose fits her role as the Chief Elder, an all-knowing yet trend-following leader. Jeff Bridges plays “The Giver,” who nails his role with a wise and rebellious air. Taylor Swift has a small cameo as Rosemary, The Giver’s daughter. The rest of the cast is mostly unspectacular, but does not detract from the movie’s spirit.
The action in the movie was more exciting than I had anticipated, including some brief war and battle scenes that alone earn the film’s PG-13 rating. The movie does invent and embellish certain scenes in vague or simple sections of the book to add excitement, which work overall but largely do not determine the outcome of the story. The ending is similar to that of the book’s, but setting is understandable more concrete.
As for The Giver’s renowned philosophy being taught in middle schools everywhere, it’s a tough call as to whether the movie does it justice. The movie displays “releasing” people (i.e., forced euthanasia) quite explicitly, and one can see clearly how death does not bother people if they don’t understand it like Jonas does. While the movie excellently depicts Jonas’s emotional awakening as the setting returns to color, (much of the movie is in black and white), and thus successfully invents some small rebellious actions to aid in his character development (such as kissing his friend Fiona). Perhaps the most important message is not done justice. The book deals with the idea of how humankind needs pain in order to understand happiness and love and thus live life to the fullest. A pleading Giver at the end of the movie introduces this concept, but only as a climactic plea that the movie did not bring up before. Fans of the book desire a more thorough exploration of how we benefit from the hardship of life. Nevertheless, the movie provides an acceptable overview of the book’s philosophy.
Overall, Phillip Noyce’s screenplay of The Giver exceeded my moderately-set expectations. The visual interpretations of the setting, the Community, the people, and the action are all believable and fulfilling. Whether they are fans of the book or not, the philosophical questions the movie raises, while not as comprehensive as the ones in the book, are still enough to leave an impact on viewers. I recommend the movie to anyone who has read the book or to anyone who desires a solid film.
Short URL: http://miltonmeasure.org/?p=6273