Movie Review: Jeff Bridges is title role of The Giver

The Giver: Taken Away

by Sandra Olmsted    

After nearly twenty years, director and star Jeff Bridges has finally succeeded in his struggle to get a film adaptation of Lois Lowry’s The Giver to the big screen. Jeff Bridges optioned the film in 1995, one year after Lois Lowry’s novel won the Newbery Medal, and he originally intended to cast his father, Lloyd Bridges (1913–1998), in the title role of the Giver. Now Bridges has taken the role of the shamanic sage for himself. The Giver keeps the memories of mankind’s violence, hate, joy, and love so that the community can live happily in a peaceful, drugged harmony without the problems created by passion, jealousy, etc. When the Giver must train a new Receiver of Memories, Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), they begins under a cloud of a passed failure in the training of another Receiver, Rosemary (Taylor Swift), ten years earlier.      The Giver opens with eighteen-year-old best friends, Jonas, Fiona (Odeya Rush.) and Asher (Cameron Monaghan) heading to the last day of “high school” and wondering what careers that they will be assigned at an upcoming ceremony marking the end of their childhood. While Fiona graduates to Nurturer, like Jonas’ father (Alexander Skarsgard), Asher, the class clown, matriculates to Drone Pilot because he needs discipline. Assigned to be the Receiver of Memories, the most important job in the community, Jonas quickly learns he has permission to ask questions, even rude ones, and to lie, which is forbidden the rest of the citizens, and he never has to apologize, which the citizens do constantly. Meanwhile, the Chief Elder (Meryl Streep) keeps a watchful eye on The Giver and on Jonas as he progresses and breaks a few minor rules.      Jonas’ mother (Katie Holmes), a rule-obsessed judge, and little sister Lilly (Emma Tremblay) complete Jonas’ family unit until dad brings home Gabe, a baby whose lack of development may mean he will be released to Elsewhere. Jonas quickly becomes attached to Gabe and begins showing him the joyful and beautiful images the Giver initially shares with Jonas in order to quell Gabe’s colic. Lilly occasionally overhears what Jonas says to Gabe, but can’t share the memories the way the Giver, Jonas, or Gabe can. When Jonas learns that release and being sent Elsewhere doesn’t mean going to live in a neighboring community, he decides to take action and try to breech the boundary of memory. The Giver encourages and helps Jonas in his quest because, if Jonas can get passed the boundary, the citizens will be released from their drugged complacency. Their black-and-white world and their emotionally flat lives will be changed forever, but only if Fiona and Asher also assist Jonas.      While Bridges’ The Giver being shot in black and white harkens back to a similar theme in the film Pleasantville (1998) in look and theme, Lowry’s The Giver also draws on other work with philosophical underpinnings. Although certainly not a new idea even though it was published some six years before The Matrix was made, The Giver draws from the work of Ursula K. Le Guin’s 1973 “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and George Orwell’s 1984. Similar to Lowry’s novel where one person suffers the horrors of remembering the love and pain of being human, Le Guin’s short story focuses on one child suffering all the horrors of poverty so that the “utopian” society will have prosperity. The rigid control of birth and nurturing that Huxley explored echoes in the way children are treated in Lowry’s story, and Lowry’s The Giver also shares Orwell’s depiction of totalitarian mind control to achieve “peaceful utopia” and of one man challenging that control. Philosophical fiction challenges filmmakers to capture not only the message of the work but also the thrill of the struggle against dystopian control.      While the film The Giver has moments of suspense and excitement, it can’t really be classified as a thriller, perhaps because it gets bogged down in the love story between Jonas and Fiona. A capitulation to the desire to draw the teen audience, the teen love story, however, doesn’t overwhelm the story or resort to trite teen angst. While not a thrill a minute, this loose adaptation of The Giver may encourage new readers of Lowry’s fiction but may displease existing fans of the book because of the many change. Release by The Weinstein Company, The Giver is rated PG-13 for a mature thematic image and some sci-fi action/violence and runs 94 minutes. The Giver is in theaters now.

 



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