The Giver is a social science-fiction movie based off of the novel by Lois Lowry. It stars Jeff Bridges as the title role, Meryl Streep as the Chief Elder, Brenton Thwaites as Jonas, and Odeya Rush as Fiona.
Following an event known as The Ruin, society banded together and took drastic steps to rid its citizens of the pain of suffering, loss, and other emotions. So a utopia was constructed, slowly getting rid of diversity for the convenience and stability of sameness. All memories of the past have been given to a sole repository as the Receiver of Memories.
Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) gets together with his friends Fiona (Odeya Rush) and Asher (Cameron Monaghan) to prepare for their Graduation ceremony, where they will cease their formal schooling and instead train for their life careers. They make a brief visit to the Nurturing Center, where Jonas’s father (Alexander Skarsgard) works and Fiona occasionally volunteers. Jonas briefly glimpses Fiona’s hair color while taking care of an infant unofficially named Gabriel. That night, the entire Community gathers for the year-end ceremony. The Community’s Chief Elder (Meryl Streep) starts the ceremony with a celebration of The Old where they are given applause for their service to the Community before they are “Released to Elsewhere.” Then is the celebration of the newborn, where they are given names. Next is the celebration of “Nines,” where children of that age are recognized for reaching the halfway point of their childhood and receive bicycles. Finally comes the Graduation, where life careers are assigned. All are given a variety of careers (pilot, nurturer, birth-mother) except for Jonas. He has been recognized for his capability to “see beyond” and has been personally selected to be the new Receiver of Memories. The Community recognizes the importance of this position, especially following the failed attempt to train a Receiver ten years prior.
While Jonas is given specific instruction on being the new Receiver, he and his family get an unexpected visit from one of the nurturers dropping off Gabriel (who still hasn’t officially been named). The father assures that he can get the baby to adjust. The following morning Jonas starts his first day with the current Receiver of Memory (Jeff Bridges) and is given the memory of snow, sleds, and Home. The Receiver gives context to why things are different now than they were then, stability over quality, peace over chaos, and similarity over difference. Jonas, upon concluding his first day in training, asks how he should address his teacher, with Jonas becoming the new Receiver. His teacher simply responds that he should be called “The Giver.”
Unfortunately, the original line “I’m the Dude” couldn’t be accepted.
Normally, characterization comes from an analysis of a character’s ambitions, backstory, and attitude. Due to the nature of the environment, a majority of characters lack some or all of these qualities. Jonas acquires hopes and ambitions after learning about the qualities of the world before Communities. Asher is the resident trouble-maker who gets his personality stomped out as soon as he’s assigned to be a pilot. The Giver is very open about things and could be easily understood as soon as he’s introduced, and only becomes more interesting as the plot continues (especially regarding the previous Receiver). The Chief Elder’s primary concern involves making sure the Community remains stable and that significant discrepancies be corrected. In my mind, she appears to be less of an ambitious villain and more of a villain who refuses to let things change. The inability of these characters understanding what environment they are in, or rather how they live in it, makes them interesting, while they themselves may not be so interesting.
Right from the opening narration, the importance of language is made clear. Imprecise or over-exaggerated language is not appreciated and is implied to be a punishable offense (though this isn’t shown in the movie). When asked about Graduation, Jonas claims he is terrified but is later corrected by his mother (Katie Holmes) to mean anxious. Jonas’s inquisitive nature following his time with the Giver presses his mother to be more insistent on precision of language. Jonas, despite the rules telling him not to do so, also tries to express these newly learned words to his friends, which catches the attention of the Chief Elder. The language itself is nothing new to viewers, but the manner in which it is used make it seem like some sort of 1984 doublethink: specific words are expected but certain words with a universal understanding are antiquated and meaningless.
The glaringly obvious theme of the movie is the idea of a utopia; a peaceful existence brought about by the suppression of certain ideas. However, instead of getting rid of it completely, it is secured with a Receiver of Memory, whose main purpose is to offer guidance to the rest of the Community Elders when faced with a dilemma that hasn’t happened before (it is mentioned in the movie, but unlike the novel an example is not given). Family is also an important element in the story. Only two families are ever given screen time, one as a vehicle to introduce the protagonist and his living environment, and the other as a way to raise the stakes of the plot. Finally, a symbol throughout the film is an apple, which sparks Jonas’s knowledge and his understanding of how he can “see beyond.” My immediate association of the apple was the downfall of Eden when Eve ate the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge in Genesis from the Holy Bible. It’s present throughout the movie but not in a fashion when it’s rubbed in your face.
There is very little in this movie, though it could just be attributed to the context of the Community. In the second act, music is briefly introduced and is used throughout the rest of the film. The music is not well-developed, but has significance for the Giver. While Jonas has the ability to “see beyond,” Giver instead was given his position for his ability to “hear beyond.” Outside the movie environment, there is a bit of chase music and one licensed song released for the movie.
A majority of the film is presented in monochrome and slowly moves to more colored images as Jonas receives memories of the past. The futuristic environment of an isolated city surrounded by clouds is detailed when it needs to be, but a majority of the wide shots are not that interesting, especially in the final act of the film. Finally, the footage of the past given to Jonas is a nice break from the lack of color the rest of the atmosphere brings. The images don’t flash by the screen as fast as the trailers imply, giving a more comfortable viewing experience when they come along.
The three most recognizable stars in the film are Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, and Katie Holmes. All others are newer, younger actors that haven’t been in enough roles to be easily identified. Taylor Swift also makes a very brief appearance in the movie as Rosemary, long enough to have presence but not long enough to determine how good of an actor she is. The Chief Elder only makes small, brief appearances in the book but has a lot more scenes in the movie. Meryl’s involvement in the movie is likely the cause of this, allowing her to give the character a lot more development and involvement in the plot. Katie Holmes as Jonas’s mother also added to the character in comparison to the book, being involved with Community Security and Grammar police. I feel Jeff Bridges hits every beat of The Giver well, giving the character humor, solemnity, and fear.
As with most films adapted from other forms of media, the immediate audience grab would be those who read the source material. The stars in the movie are also a potential pull to the adults who haven’t read the film. From personal experience, I’ve heard several fans polarized about the movie. Some fans of the novel are very excited to watch and others were very skeptical for it to extend in the film industry in the first place. Wherever they land on the spectrum, I’m sure many are curious enough to watch the film.
Many ideas are brought about in the film, but not all of them are further explained or resolved. It can leave a lot to be desired for those who don’t want to fill in the blanks for themselves. However, the book has an ambiguous plot point that is addressed and concluded in the film.
I was not assigned to read the book in school, as I’m sure many others have. For reference, I read the book before the movie came out. As I’m sure many of the moviegoers who plan to watch this movie to see one of their favorite young adult novels come to life, it should be noted that necessary changes had to be made. Some of them make sense and others are minute enough to not be considered a problem. I’ll list some of them below, but it should be prefaced that the list may contain SPOILERS:*Age of Graduation is changed from 12 to 16 *There are about 150 children for the Graduation ceremony instead of 50 *Jonas is #52 instead of #20 *Stirrings are introduced in the second act instead of the first, and Jonas is not shown getting treatment for it *Receiving of memories happens at a much faster pace *Lilly’s never told that her comfort animal will be recycled, instead it’s just given to Gabriel *Jonas’s preparation in the final act is changed, removing him gathering supplies but adding materials from The Giver
I feel the cut material could have easily been put into the movie and extended to a 2-hour movie instead of having it end at under 100 minutes.