Movie Review: The Giver
I was never exposed to the controversial novel of Lois Lowry and I learned about the movie, “The Giver,” at the 20th Century Fox press conference at Comic-Con this year.
Directed by Phillip Noyce (“Salt”), “The Giver” is a story about a perfectly peaceful, utopian society, unfolding onscreen with the bland pleasantness of “Pleasantville.” The sets are immaculately designed in a minimalistic style. Communities built after the Ruins are cocooned in a climate-controlled, clifftop mesa bordered by clouds.
Communities are ruled with an iron-fist precision – past memories are erased, everything is strictly regulated. Assigned family units, exact societal role, down to well-manufactured dwelling, impeccably lit pathways, uniform clothing and homogeneous food. Precise language, no lies, and obedience to curfew times.
Regulations set by political leaders, led by Chief Elder (Meryl Streep, “The Iron Lady”), strip away what fundamentally makes us human, emotions. Conformity is a way of life and contentment is ever-present. The premise reminds me of one of the most memorable sci-fi films in the last decade, “Equilibrium.”
With the absence of emotions, everyone is equal and at peace, as there is no winner or loser. No war, hunger, racism or prejudice. No anger, fear, hatred, envy, confusion or chaos. At the same time, there is no love, passion, pride, joy or happiness.
At the Choosing Ceremony, three friends, Jonas (Brenton Thwaites, “Maleficent”), Fiona (Odeya Rush) and Asher (Cameron Monaghan) leave their childhood behind and each receives a pre-ordained role in society. Fiona as a nurturer and Asher a drone pilot. Jonas, deemed to possessed the ideal attributes of intelligence, integrity, courage and capacity to see beyond, is selected to become a Receiver. The Receiver will train with a spiritual leader, the Giver (Jeff Bridges, “Edge of Tomorrow”), who will transmit memories of the past and the outside world. As the sole keeper of memories, he provides guidance to the Elders from time to time.
As Jonas begins his training, he uncovers the truth about the world and learns that there’s more to life, much more. He begins to skip his morning injection, which suppresses emotions. His increasingly unruly behaviors raise eyebrows of his assigned parents (Katie Holmes and Alexander Skarsgard).
Jonas’ world is turned upside down, his vision gradually changing from monochromatic to technicolor. He’s perplexed, curious, filled with awe when seeing visions and feeling the beauty and joy of living, and later recoiling in shock and horror when exposed to the cruelty, pain and suffering of mankind. He experiences stirrings of awakening feelings toward Fiona, whom he starts to share with. He also learns about the unspeakable reality of what happens to the sick and old when they’re “released” to a place called Elsewhere.
When Jonas discovers a plan that would release a baby that he has bonded with, he knows he must take radical actions, and fast. The Giver, who holds a painful past with the previous Receiver, agrees to help him escape and venture out of the sterile communities, past the boundary of memories. As one can imagine, the Chief Elder clashes with the Giver, sees Jonas as a threat and hunts him down. What’s should be noted here is that the Chief Elder is not inherently evil. She truly believes in protecting her people from the ugliness of the world by taking away their free will.
For the veteran actors, Streep is wasted; it’s a role that doesn’t require such caliber. Bridges is perfectly cast, imbuing the Giver with a world-weary wisdom, with hints of sarcastic humor. Thwaites is adequately earnest in the role, as someone who’s learning to experience a spectrum of emotions.
Like the other YA adaptations, “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent,” the provocative premise of “The Giver” lends itself to an interesting story. But with 94 minutes of running time, it would have benefited from additional scenes, showing a more detailed introduction to the new society rising from the ashes, segments of other unique rituals, the politics, instead of an extensive introduction narrative and rushing through the third act with action towards a rather abrupt ending.
What stand out the most are the montages of memories, stunning in living color. The diversity of experiences of people of all colors and races. The manners of individuality and self-expressions through history, culture, art and music.
Being alive means having the freedom to choose and experience all life has to offer. The good, the bad, the ugly. After all, if you can’t feel, what’s the point of living?
Copyright (c) 2014. Nathalia Aryani.