PHOTO BY AS IS PRODUCTIONS
Where is it playing?: Stadium 10
What's it rated?: PG-13
What's it worth?: $7.00
Based on the novel by Lois Lowry, The Giver is the story of Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), who lives in a perfect world where everyone is happy. At his coming of age ceremony, he’s chosen by his community to be The Receiver of Memories, meaning that he’ll be trained by an old man called The Giver (Jeff Bridges), who’ll teach Jonas about sadness, pain, war, and all the other negative aspects of the “real” world. Now that Jonas is confronted by the truth and knowledge that his world is fake, he must decide what to do.
The film, directed by Phillip Noyce (Salt, Rabbit-Proof Fence, The Bone Collector, Clear and Present Danger, Patriot Games, Dead Calm), also stars Meryl Streep, Alexander Skarsgård, Katie Holmes, and Taylor Swift.
Look, I was sort of expecting this film to be terrible. The book was assigned to my son’s sixth grade class, and its main conceit is pretty simple: Would you rather live in a world thankfully devoid of sadness, war, and disorder but likewise missing true pleasure, intimacy, and happiness? Or would you rather accept the world as it is—warts and all—with people capable of delirious happiness and heartfelt kindness but also utter sadness and cruelty? Or to state it in the vernacular of
The Matrix, would you take the red pill or the blue pill?
As a visual representation for this choice, the film opens in black & white, but as Jonas begins to learn about real emotions—both good and bad—his world starts to take on color, first just some objects, or just a hint of color throughout, but the more he learns the more saturated the color becomes. Think Pleasantville—a world of possibilities opens up, and with the guidance of The Giver, he must decide whether or not to make a journey to the border of his world, that if breeched allows all the memories to come flooding back, changing his community forever.
Despite how sappy this all sounds—and it is pretty sappy—it’s also earnest and sweet. It’s a great lesson for adolescents navigating their changing emotions, which let’s face t, can be hard to sort out. Not for the citizens of Jonas’ world, however.
Every person in his world begins his or her day with an injection, which Jonas learns dulls emotions, so he starts tricking the injection machine by putting a dab of his blood on an apple, and then having the machine inject the apple. This speeds his transformation into an increasingly empathetic and emotional person, who soon falls in love with his childhood friend Fiona (Odeya Rush), who he also encourages to trick the machine.
Meanwhile, his father (Skarsgård), a nurturer who cares for (and sometimes euthanizes if they’re not up to weight) the community’s newchildren, as they’re called, brings home a struggling infant named Gabriel, who he hopes will thrive with more attention. Jonas has an immediate connection to the child, who like him has a birthmark that suggests Gabriel will grow up to be a Receiver of Memories.
When Jonas learns Gabriel is to be “released” into “elsewhere,” just like the community’s old people, his faith in the system finally and completely crumbles. His society didn’t get rid of pain and death; it only masked the pain and hid the death behind euphemistic terms. It’s a world where newchildren are raised by strangers and placed in families, where the old are euthanized. Think of the story as Brave New World-lite.
Despite A-listers like Streep and Bridges, the film’s not going to win any Academy Awards, and from what I’ve read, it was many years in development as Bridges’ originally optioned the film with the idea it would star his father Lloyd as The Giver, but it’s an easy way to spend 94 minutes, and the message is one of hope in humanity. Maybe it’s misguided hope, but sometimes hope is all we’ve got. (94 min.)