Director: Phillip Noyce
Writers: Michael Mitnick, Robert B. Weide, Lois Lowry
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Katie Holmes, Brenton Thwaites, Alexander Skarsgård, Odeya Rush, Cameron Monaghan, Taylor Swift, Emma Tremblay, Alexander Jillings, James Jillings, Jordan Nicholas Small, Saige Fernandes, Renate Stuurman, Vanessa Cooke
Synopsis: In a seemingly perfect community, without war, pain, suffering, differences or choice, a young boy is chosen to learn from an elderly man about the true pain and pleasure of the "real" world.
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for a mature thematic image and some sci-fi action/violence
4 / 10
- Great Concept to base a story around
- Cinematography choice was creative and interesting. It went from being initially shot in black and white to gradually incorporating color by the end of the feature to illustrate the progression of the characters.
- Meryl Streep had a great performance, but she under utilized here.
- Katie Holmes had a good performance.
- Jeff Bridges accent makes it hard to take his character seriously.
- The concept of whether or not humanity should have free will, or sacrifice it in order to save us from ourselves, is a great idea to explore in a film. A premise like this could lead to a lot of great philosophical debates about censorship and control versus free will and freedom. Yet, the film waits until the very end to even bring it up; hence it comes off a contrived plot device.
- The film suffers from too many plot hole and lack in it's own logic that it's hard to take it seriously.
- None of the main characters are developed particularly well
Great concept to base it's script around, but it lacks in it's execution
"The Giver" is just another example of a film having a brilliant concept, yet it falls apart because the execution is lacking. Sadly, "The Giver" is fairly mediocre at best. Based on the novel of the same name.
The story takes place in the distant future, where humanity lives in a utopian society free of crime, war, racism, sexism and diseases. Everyone is treated exactly the same, and society seems to have flourished. There's no such thing as overpopulation either, and nobody ever lies. Hell, nobody uses profanities in this society either. I know some readers might be wondering..."What's the catch?" Well, it's nothing really...unless you want to count your own free will and emotions.
In this utopian society, everyone is the same because their personalities are altered through the daily medication they're forced to take each day. The medication robs the individuals of their emotions to where they can't feel sadness, anger, jealousy or hate. Throughout most of the film, it's shot in black and white because that's all the people can see after taking the medication. However, as the main character grows to see world for what it really is, the film slowly shifts to incorporate more color. This subtle use of color is used quite nicely, as it acts a great metaphor for the progression of Jonas' character. Sadly, there's more liberties taken away in this alleged utopia.
Wonderful things like art, dancing, sports, music or even color don't exist anymore because that would lead to jealousy, competition and hatred. And, the government wouldn't want that. In this utopian society, they live in a secluded section cut off from the rest of the world, and it seems to have controlled weather. Meaning there are no such things as hot days, where the sun is burning up in the sky. Sadly, this means nothing fun exist like people going swimming to cool off. . And, there certainly aren't any snow days either because that would be bad for crops. Of course, that also means there's no such thing as skiing or snowboarding either. .
Heck, babies aren't even allowed to have names until they reach a certain age. And if a baby fails to reach certain stages in their early development, then that child is sent off to Else World aka death. Unlike our society that values life so much that we're still debating whether or not abortion is morally sound, the world this film presents is a tad more controversial in the fact that they kill already born babies if they fail to meet a certain criteria during the early stages of development. And to make matters worse, nobody bats an eye doing it in this utopian society because their emotions are taken away by the medication.
For them, it's just business as usual. Killing a newborn baby because it's deemed physically and/or mentally inferior, by their standards, is no different than doing a routine check up at the doctor's office. Nobody cares because none of them comprehend what death is, nor can they feel the emotional compassion to feel anything if a loved one is sent off to Else World. Heck, people aren't even allowed to hug each other, or say things like "I love you" anymore because it's no longer appropriate.
Needless to say, "The Giver" is something of an allegory for censorship and conformity in society. You have a huge government system constantly trying to keep the citizens safe from corruption and tyranny, but it comes at the cost of our own personal liberties. Hm...why does this sound an awful lot like the time when the "Patriot Act" was passed through the United States government?
"The Giver" has a great concept to base it's plot around, as the story itself is chalked full of potential that could've made it one of the best movies of the year. Sadly, it falls apart on execution, and the plot holes make it seem mediocre.
To get into these problems, I'll need to delve deeper into the story though. Unlike our own society where everyone is free to choose their career, people are assigned jobs immediately following their high school graduation based on their personalities and natural tendencies.
And every once in a while, a person is selected to be the new receiver of history. In this utopian society, nobody is allowed to have recollections of the past before the government started to control everything, in fear that the people would only be inspired to commit wicked acts that caused the downfall of society ages ago. But as a wise man once said, "those who forget the past are often doomed to repeat it." Hence, this government allows only a few rare people have this kind of knowledge.
Enter the Giver (Jeff Bridges). The film centers around a young protagonist named Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), who's chosen to become the new receiver of memory. During his training, he's instructed specifically not to share the information he learns with anyone else. He's also allowed to lie to people if the situation demands it.
It's during this training that Jonas starts to realize all the things that society had lost over the years. Things like creativity, happiness and love. Things that used to make people feel special is gone because the government took that away, in the name of protecting it's citizens from themselves.
It's never explained how society got to this point, but it's heavily implied that it happened because society itself fell apart. People turned on themselves, and the government was forced to take away our civil liberties to keep humanity from destroying itself.
During Jonas' training, he sees all the beauty that humanity lost over the years, and yearns to share it with the rest of the world; in spite of the dangers it brings for all those close to him. Of course, he also learns about war and some of the problems humanity faced briefly in one scene, but it becomes an afterthought. Jonas becomes traumatized when he receives the memory of war and crime, but it's never brought up again. And, this is where "The Giver" fails as a movie.
On the surface, "The Giver" has a great concept. Granted, the concept is unrealistic, but this film had a chance to become a deep science fiction drama about pros and cons of humanity. It could've challenged us to question our views of the world. Forcing us to think about whether we do more harm than good in society, or maybe we're our own worst enemy. Is it better to take away emotions and happiness in favor of security? Or is it better to have an uncertain future where the freedom of choice still exists? Is security worth the price of our own free will and liberties? Are we nothing more than animals that'll make the wrong choice every single time?
The problem with this film is that it waits until around the end of the damn story to even bring up this discussion. Even though Jonas learns about war and all the bad things that humanity used to have, he doesn't give a crap about those things. Hell, he barely even wants to talk about them, as he'd much rather think about all the good things that humanity had to give up to survive. Sadly, this would've been a great debate for the film to explore. But since the film chooses to only bring up this debate around the climax, it comes off as a contrived plot device that's shoe horned into the plot at the last possible minute.
Plus, there's the issue of some of the plot holes that don't make any sense. For instance, Chief Elder (Meryl Streep) plays the strict government official that seems to be in charge of the entire district that the Giver resides in. In one particular scene, it's revealed that she's interested in learning what Jonas has learned from the Giver, but Jonas is reluctant to tell her anything. This raises a big problem for me.
First of all, I know this is probably explained in the book, but I'm not reviewing the book. I'm reviewing the film based on the book. And like Roger Ebert once said, a good film adaptation shouldn't require a viewer to read the damn book before viewing because that's bad story telling practice. Frankly, I agree with that logic wholeheartedly.
Therefore, when I see a film like "The Giver" with that particular scene, it makes me wonder...why can't the Chief Elder learn about the past? Or for that matter, why did the government only allow only a select few to know of the past? Wouldn't it have made more sense if the government only allowed themselves to know of the past, while keeping the rest of the population ignorant about it? That would've made a lot more sense, and it would served the allegory for the story a lot better.
Think about it. You would have a corrupt government system manipulating the people, so they can pass laws that takes away the people's civil liberties, while keeping them ignorant about all the facts. This would've made much more sense.
When we reach the climax of the film, we see the Giver and Chief Elder arguing about the morality of the government system controlling people.
The Giver claims taking away people's freedom of choice is wrong, and takes away what makes them human. While the Chief Elder argues, we're nothing more than animals that will always make the wrong choices in life, and how we need to be constantly under control. But this raises the question...how the hell would she know that? When you listen to the conversation, it seems like Chief Elder might know a bit about the past herself, but how is that even possible if only the Giver and Jonas are allegedly the only ones allowed access to the memories of the past?
Again, I'm sure it's explained in the book, but it's never addressed in the film; hence it comes off as a gaping plot hole that ruins most of the movie. "The Giver" had a great premise to work with, but it lacks a lot in execution. Although a lot of film critics bashed "Divergent" earlier this year over it's concept of a girl fighting against the confines of conformity, but you can at least appreciate it for the fact that the story was at least well told. Whereas this particular movie, you have yourself a giant mess that contains the soul of what could have been a great science fiction drama. but it turned out to be nothing more than a generic mediocre film.
Plus, it doesn't help that Jeff Bridges' performance was flat out terrible in this role. Throughout most of the film, he uses that goofy southern accent he had back when he did "RIPD", which worked for that movie considering the emphasis of his role was on comedy. Whereas this film, he's playing a tragic figure. A man that's been burdened by the pressures of society, while coping with the loss of someone he once cared about. By definition, he should be arguably the most sympathetic figure in this film, but every time you hear him use that goofy accent it immediately takes you out of it. Hence, it's hard to connect with his character emotionally.
Meryl Streep does a great job in her role, but she's vastly under utilized in this feature. It's sad to see her talents wasted in such a mediocre film like this. Hell, I even feel sorry for Katie Holmes as well because she brought a sense of quiet dignity and inner turmoil to her character, yet it's almost a crying shame that this had to be her follow up movie from "Jack and Jill." She already starred in that piece of crap, yet she somehow managed to find herself in another mediocre flick.
Overall, "The Giver" isn't the worst science fiction movie that I've ever seen, but it could have been a lot better. Unless you're a huge fan of young adult films, then I'd avoid this one like the plaque. Great concepts, but they're vastly underdeveloped here.
© 2014 Steven Daniels