Dr. Donna Copeland’s
BRENTON THWAITES JEFF BRIDGES MERYL STREEP
KATIE HOLMES ALEXANDER SKARSGARD TAYLOR SWIFT
Online forums are already raging about the differences between the book by Lois Lowry and the film adaptation distributed by The Weinstein Company. Originally I thought it would be similar to The Host, but actually it’s a gender flip of Divergent, which is a copycat of The Hunger Games. All of these teen book adaptations have the same plot devices they just call them something different. The Hunger Games had a lottery, Divergent had factions, and The Giver calls it the ceremony of advancement. Unlike the other films, The Giver gives us little in hopes of making us want more; instead, it feels more like a pilot episode or a preface to a story that we have to wait for, and if the film flops we may never see continued (i.e. The Golden Compass).
After the Ruin, the elders have eliminated conflict in humans by insisting on daily injections that remove the understanding of color, love, war, and anything else that makes us human. The world now exists as a controlled substance where babies are assigned to parents, children educated then assigned to jobs and the elderly disposed of. Jonas (Thwaites) was the last standing during the ceremony of advancement; he was unsure of himself already, but now the Chief Elder (Streep) appears and tells him he has been chosen as the new receiver of memory. Unlike his friends, he will study and learn from The Giver (Bridges), who will pass down knowledge of things most never knew existed.
Just like comparing Divergent’s similarities to The Hunger Games were unavoidable, so it is with The Giver, which really makes me question whether these female authors all know each other. The Giver isn’t out to make a big splash; the special effects sequences are small in comparison, the scope of the series is only hinted at as much of the film is just dialogue and explanation (no action sequences here). The Giver feels like a preface to a story that is just beginning to get its feet wet; however, there isn’t enough here to get an audience excited for the next chapter.
Phillip Noyce is a hit or miss director; his thrillers like The Bone Collector or Oscar nominated The Quiet American delivered elements of originality but weren’t wholesomely fantastic pictures. “Why would anyone want to get rid of this,” Jonas asks after The Giver shows him what dancing looks like. If Lowry (or the screenwriters who apparently butchered her book) are trying to say anything, it’s that the world isn’t so different in the future, that those in control of rules, laws, the way of life will always have their own agendas. “It’s just murder under a different name,” Jonas says about what he witnesses. Walden Media has had fair success with their Chronicles of Narnia series, and this could prove to be their next big money maker or audiences might be oversaturated with teenage futuristic utopian film series.
Final Thought – The male version of Hunger Games or Divergent.
By: Dustin Chase
In the beginning, The Giver looks like it will be very interesting—although I am getting a bit weary of the theme in literature for young adults of a “utopian” world where everything is in control er…under the control of a small few who exert complete authority over the private lives of its citizens, e.g., The Hunger Games and Divergent. I could go along with that for a while in this film, assuming that the one who held the memories, The Giver (Jeff Bridges), would be presenting his new protégé, Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) with wisdom gained from memories and experience. This would involve—not simplistic aphorisms, as were presented—but societal conundrums that Jonas would need to wrestle with.
The film does do a good job in depicting the gradual disillusionment that Jonas experiences, and in showing how euphemisms can be used by authorities to obfuscate the reality of otherwise distasteful situations. However, there are logical disconnections in the story that make it seem silly at times. For instance, the chief elder seems to be able to see almost everything that goes on in the community—but not everything. That is, how could she and her emissaries lose track of where Jonas is at every moment? How is it that suddenly milk magically appears out in the snowy wilderness? To be really effective, young adult literature should model for its readers clever problem-solving and reasoned arguments. Further, there is no indication in this story of the value of memory and experience for a society.
The cast is really fine, and it is amusing to see Jeff Bridges in the role of a wise sage—not to say that he doesn’t pull it off very well. With this role and that of Tim in Oculus, Brenton Thwaites appears to be well on his way to a successful acting career. Meryl Streep easily plays the elder stateswoman always in supreme control of her person. Alexander Skarsgard and Katie Holmes as the parents maintain the blank, unemotional countenance which their roles require. I wish we could have heard at least one complete song from Taylor Swift as Rosemary (just kidding).
I don’t know how much control Director Phillip Noyce had in this production, but I do wish he had been able to put more of an Australian stamp on The Giver, as in Rabbit-Proof Fence and The Quiet American, for example. Those films have more depth in covering human and societal issues, which I think is lacking in The Giver.
Are depictions of utopian, controlled environments in young adult films a reaction against our current disordered world?
By Donna R. Copeland