By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
* Spoiler Alert
Some audiences may well wonder if they are flipping through a century’s worth of National Geographic magazines when they are halfway through watching the movie, The Giver. The diverse collection of videos and images being used in this film gives this product a uniqueness not usually found for a science fiction film. That’s typically reserved for a documentary about sociology about the evolution of the human condition.
In this future, a utopian society has developed to take away all pain, emotions and memories of the past. Everything that defines a human culture, from its Hunter-Gatherer days to Industrialization (including war mongering and revolution) is lost as it becomes Aquarian. The new world order is strict, controlled and flat. Each person has a defined purpose in this new society and they are not allowed to deviate from it. That is, until Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) finds he’s alone in the Ceremony of Twelve (a rite of passage to help teens transition to adulthood) and is last to be assigned a role. He is identified as someone unique so he has a particular task to fulfill.
When he gets a telepathic education from his teacher, The Giver (Jeff Bridges), he begins to question everything that is there in the monotone world that is around him. The cinematic visual treatment makes this film an exemplary walk through the senses. A lot of feeling is expressed from how Jonas sees the world when he awakens from his monochromatic world to experiencing colour that he does not quite understand. What he and the viewer sees illustrates how a few key art movements, like Impressionism and Post Modernism, are interpreted from the perspective of how a museum visitor not experienced with the arts would perceive Picasso for the first time. This beauty may earn Director of Photography Ross Emery a nod come award season.
Jonas’ spiritual awakening is fantastic to watch. Not only does he become an adult — he has romantic feelings towards Fiona (Odeya Rush) — but also he will face tough decisions. Ultimately, after he has touched the forbidden fruit of knowledge, will he leave “Eden?”
This ejection from this society is ordered by The Chief Elder (Meryl Streep), who helps drive the plot forward. Both Streep and Bridges give some nicely restrained performances as they play polar opposites of each other. Viewers used to seeing Bridges playing colourful characters will find that as the Giver, he’s a lot more passive than usual. In his character’s mind, he’s constantly calculating. He has a lot to shoulder as the “wise-man” of the village. But when children see him as the “crazy-man” too, just what he represents may well be that of a shaman of the village.
When Bridges, the actor, is hugely responsible to bringing this movie to the big screen, he probably had more of an important role than just be one of the lead actors. He’s also co-producer.
To adapt this 1993 book of the same name by Lois Lowry to film certainly had some challenges. Not everyone has read this book (this reviewer included) and to extrapolate what’s important certainly means having the narrative move faster in the later acts. The transition from the introduction to the story is better paced than the rest of the film. However, far too many visual metaphors are placed in the story that not many viewers will necessarily notice or read from. The Tree of Life over baby Gabriel’s head felt like overstating the obvious. The Biblical subtext was overkill with “Silent Night” being heard in the background, and while the film can do without this particular exposition, at least this particular secular theme was not prevalent throughout the movie.
A huge air of familiarity with occult dystopic culture can be found instead. This movie can be likened to films like Logan’s Run, Fahrenheit 451 or Pleasentville. Even Citizen Kane is slightly alluded to with certain names and a famous sled in what it’s intended to represent. Because of this, neither this film or the book it’s based from proves to be unique in the landscape of cinema or fiction.
Here, the producers show that massive budgets are not needed to tell a well-meaning tale about discovering an individual’s place in society. The only thought left is wondering if there will be a sequel or if a movie will be made with baby Gabriel growing up to continue this exposition. Four books make up this universe — the remaining being Gathering Blue (2000), Messenger (2004), Son (2012) — and only the box office numbers will tell if more films may get considered to be made.
3½ Stars out of 5