Warning: Spoilers follow.
A film adaptation of Lois Lowry’s The Giver has been a long time coming. I remember reading the book in sixth grade, as required by my English teacher. It was only my second dystopian novel (Fahrenheit 451 being the first), before I even knew what the word “dystopian” meant. Now, I’ve read the book, but as I walked into the theater, I realized I didn’t have a clue what was going to happen–it had been too long.
However, I did remember bits and pieces: an old man, the murder of a baby, a sled. (And then the sled got me thinking about Ethan Frome, which has its own famous sledding scene, and well, maybe this isn’t the time to talk about it.
Rosebud!!!) Anyway, the point is, I went into The Giver tabula rasa–much like its characters, who basically live without the memory of their ancestors. There is no history prior to the beginning of their civilization, which is one that upholds the importance of “Sameness” above all else.
The Community, as it is called, is the perfect society. There is no war, no strife, no drama. People live peacefully, un-jealously, and honestly. And yet, at the same time, they’re all lying to themselves. The people in the universe of The Giver go about their lives, essentially, as robots. They eat, sleep, and do their work with mechanical efficiency.
Enter Jonas, an outwardly normal teenager who feels “different” from his peers. Cliche, I know, but roll with it. (The Giver asks the viewer to just “roll with it” a lot–too much, in fact) Jonas sees glimpses of color in the world, whereas the rest of the Community only see in black and white. It is soon revealed that Jonas is a Receiver, a potential Elder of the Community who holds the memories of the past, to advise the rest of the Elders in times of trouble.
The rest of the movie unfolds rather quickly. Jonas, with thousands of years of memories and a world of knowledge, realizes the folly of the Community, and in order to make the rest of the people see as he does, escapes the confines of the city and passes the Boundary of Memory (or something to that effect). Like I said, it takes a lot of suspension of disbelief, something the movie isn’t quite able to pull off.
Still, The Giver has some good things to like. During the first act of the movie, The Giver is shot in black and white, to mimic what the average person of the Community sees. I actually preferred this, and I’ll tell you why: it gave the movie a kind of, I don’t know, Twilight Zone feel. The unnervingly straight edges of the architecture, the eerily blank surfaces of walls, and just the “orderliness” of it all made it seemed like some kind of dark fairy tale. Plus, whenever Jonas found himself out by the edge of Elsewhere (a thick fog which encompassed the Community) I felt a strange, empty vertigo. It was just a very unique image.
But once color began to pour into the movie, the production design just didn’t hold up. The green of the trees and the blue of the sky made the rest of the world look fake. The buildings looked plastic and the costumes became glaringly plain. Maybe that was the point–I don’t know. But when a movie forsakes aesthetic on purpose to make a point, is it still a movie? Wow, what am even talking about? Let’s move on.
Wandering thoughts on The Giver:
- How about that soundtrack? The music, composed by Marco Beltrami, is absolutely stirring. It’s an extremely versatile track list which manages to encompass a wide spectrum of emotion throughout the movie.
- At first I thought the acting was horrible, but it turns out each and every citizen is heavily drugged. Makes sense.
- Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep do excellent jobs in their roles as Elders with a “not-so-happy-past.” But this is to be expected.
- Frakking Taylor Swift. Go away. Just . . . just go away.
- Jonas and Gabe died right? I’m not the only one who interpreted the ending that way? Because how could a house decorated exactly the way Jonas saw in a memory just happen to be there at the end? And all this just happened to occur on Christmas? Yeah, kid’s dead.
Rating: The Giver, while narratively concise and visually interesting, suffers heavily by its failure to suspend belief, giving it a C+
ASV Scale of Villainy: E
From an objective point of view, Jonas is the bad guy. I mean, he essentially ruins a perfect society by reminding everyone that humans are evil and will always kill each other, given the chance. A realistic sequel would depict a war between those who cling to Sameness and those who advocate for The World As It Was. In a conflict like that? There would be blood, trust me.
What did you think of The Giver? If you’ve read the book, how do you think they compare? Let me know in the comments.