The Giver is a novel that appears on every kid’s summer reading list. I read it back when I was in grade school, and I imagine many other kids growing up in the 90s did as well. The novel takes place in a futuristic utopia where there is no war, no poverty, no sickness, no pain. Any kind of emotion has been eliminated and replaced by a “sameness” that allows the society to live a calm and peaceful life. Only one person, the Receiver of Memories, is allowed to experience the past and learn the truth behind this so-called utopia.
Since the society relies on sameness, everyone is assigned a specific job when they turn 16 during this coming-of-age event known as the Ceremony. Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) is selected for one of the most important jobs, the Receiver of Memories, of which there is only one person with that title at any given time. As Jonas learns under the guidance of the current Receiver of Memories (Jeff Bridges), he is given a freedom from the sameness everyone else experiences and soon realizes that this society might not be the utopia initially he thought it was.
The Giver is a visually stunning film that adequately tells the story of the novel it’s based upon, yet doesn’t quite capture the essence of what it’s truly about.
The film is seen through the eyes of Jonas who, like the rest of the people in society, can only seen in black and white. As the film progresses, though, and Jonas is introduced to emotions such as love and pain, he begins to slowly see color and everything becomes much brighter. The Giver, as he calls himself, transfers memories of the past by locking arms with Jonas, at which point a flood of images overwhelms him. The startling contrast of color from the first time he does this also hits the audience too, as the film has been in black and white up until this point. Only Jonas and the Giver can see color, so naturally scenes that don’t involve either of them revert back to black and white. It’s a wonderfully used style that complements the film’s sameness theme.
The somewhat disappointing thing is that The Giver doesn’t go much further than that. The novel covers some pretty strong themes about society and governmental influence that the film just doesn’t do justice. It gets the basics down, but that’s about it. The film borders on crossing into the current status of young adult novel film adaptations that place questioning teens in a futuristic dystopia, but holds back on the action and the cheesy romances. It’s a refreshing change of pace to finally see a film that focuses more on the adult part of “young adult.”
Jeff Bridges gives an excellent performance, and ends up being the heart and soul of the film. It comes as no surprise since Bridges has been trying to get the film made for what seems like forever. Meryl Streep does a good enough job in the few scenes she’s in, and the leading actors, Brenton Thwaites, Odeya Rush, and Cameron Monaghan, are decent enough.
That’s what The Giver ends up being, decent enough. It’s visually gorgeous and Bridges does a fantastic job but other than those two aspects, everything else is decent enough. It’s nice to see a change of pace for the young adult genre, though, and hopefully this is only the first step in the right direction for things to come.