The Giver: Jeff Bridges Finally Gave Us This Movie.
By Heather Nichols, Tawfik Zone Contributor
With the initial trailer release for Lois Lowry’s award winning book, The Giver, I was both skeptical and appalled. There are a handful of books I can credit to my wanting to be a writer and The Giver tops that list and led me to write a series of, we’ll call them “interesting” fan fiction which will hopefully never see the light of day. Up until San Diego Comicon I was dreading this film, until the author herself came out and fully backed the film. If she is okay with it, then it’s probably not going to be bad. Despite my high expectations I would say this film is on par if not better than some of the recent teen dystopian films that are currently making a splash in the market. I give this a 6.5/10.
For those unfamiliar, the novel is about a seemingly utopian world that has been purged from despair by creating sameness. Two individuals, the giver and the receiver, are charged with remembering the old world in order to advise the council on various matters. The story is told from the perspective of the main character Jonas, the receiver. For the most part the movie follows his narrative with the exception of the third act because the book’s narrative ends ambiguously and the film seeks to further expand what transpired.
Compared to my fan fiction where a tribe of Native Americans taught Jonas to fight with a tomahawk to thwart an alien species that was controlling the council (I was 12, what can I say) this ending seems appropriate but does not totally work due to timing issues and weird acting choices. Something about the performances didn’t feel organic, perhaps the actors were not reacting to one another because they filmed their scenes on different days, I’m not totally sure.
Brendon Thwaites plays Jonas exactly the way I would have pictured him to be. Meryl Streep is a good choice but I don’t think this role will make anyone in the Academy wave a magic wand and hand her an Oscar as it’s just not her best work. Partly because the character isn’t as influential or sinister in the book but we’ll get back to that in the spoiler section.
I agree that the late Lloyd Bridges would have without a doubt made a fantastic Giver, unfortunately Hollywood didn’t give Jeff Bridges who owned the rights for so long the go-ahead until now when the modern dystopian franchises were really cashing in. Jeff, who plays the role now, is not bad, I just expected a more humble characterization than what was presented.
I must give a shout out to the special effects and editing teams. There is no way this film would have worked had it all been in color and the transitioning between color and black and white is done quite well. In fact the whole pacing of Jonas realizing color is possibly my favorite aspect of both the novel and film so I am very happy to see it done right. And finally we got an appropriate use of shaky cam so overall this film looked and felt right.
THIS SECTION CONTAINS SPOILERS
This is where my love of the book is going to be obnoxious, apologies. While I understand the demand for love triangles, it’s not a theme in the original text and by adding this they have altered the meaning of the story. Let me explain. In the book Jonas has two friends, Asher (Cameron Monaghan) and Fiona (Odeya Rush). Besides what is essentially a wet dream, there is no romance between Fiona and Jonas. Love is a theme in the book, there is no denying that but it’s more than just romantic love. In order to achieve utopia family units are assigned to a dwelling where there is no emotional attachment besides feeling fond of each other. Even then it’s only because they are supposed to.
What prompts Jonas to want to leave the community is when he discovers the meaning of being released, which at first everyone thinks is a trip people get to go on when really we’re talking about euthanizing people. At least it’s not Soylent Green… The horror is if a newborn baby is not seen as meeting society’s expectations, he or she is released before they reach 6 months of age. Jonas’ family is taking care of an infant by the name of Gabriel. Everything is set in motion when Jonas hears that they plan to release him.
The novel ends with the baby leaving the community in secret, his fate unknown. The movie expands on this by creating a seek and destroy objective because if Jonas reaches a certain point all memory will come back and they fear that this will end their “perfect” society. What I got from the book was that perfection isn’t worth the sacrifice and that individuality, while it can lead to conflict, is what makes life beautiful and meaningful. By eliminating the power to choose we are not alive but just going through the motions. The movie sent me a different message: “hey look we turned this thing into a movie and put all the things you consumers like about the genre in it.”
These tropes are disappointing because all the parts that I expected- the look of the community, the way people spoke, the use of and lack of color and the first memory- were all what I had hoped for. Unfortunately Jonas’ motivation has been altered from being a prophet versus someone who has just realized the power of free will and wants to do something because he thinks it’s right. Overall the movie never got me to completely suspend disbelief.
I am all for adapting something and making it your own as long as it makes sense. Had Forrest Gump stayed true to the novel we’d have a rapist who went into outer space with a chimpanzee and the “life is like a box of chocolates” line would not be printed on tee-shirts. Seriously go look up the book plot sometime, I didn’t believe it either. I applaud them for trying to make sense of an ambiguous ending and while I don’t like the final presentation, looking at the film as a whole I am glad they tried it. Ultimately, it’s forgivable because the things they did right were actually really good.