Note: My first review in months. Gotta brush up on my skills and get back in form!
Summary: The Giver may work for attention-deficit gen-Y audiences as its carefully sanitized to cater to them. But to me, a 21 year old with a voracious appetite for books and films, the film is slightly disappointing.
Brenton Thwaites – Jonas
Jeff Bridges – The Giver
Cameron Rush – Fiona
Asher – Cameron Monaghan
Chief Elder – Meryl Streep
Phillip Noyce directs The Giver, an adaptation of Lois Lowry’s award winning social sci-fi themed book of the same name. In an interview, actress Meryl Streep, who plays a role in the film, hailed him as a “pure, pure filmmaker with great taste”. It’s a noteworthy compliment coming from an artiste of her stature, and yet entirely debatable considering Streep’s questionable predilection for directors such as Phillida Lloyd. Remember her? She’s the one that dropped not one but two rancid bombs on unsuspecting audiences, namely Mamma Mia and Iron Lady, both starring Streep. Unlike Lloyd, Noyce has a relatively extensive career as a film director with over thirty seven years of experience. Therefore, it would be highly biased on my part to judge his abilities based on the only two works that I’ve managed to catch, The Giver and Salt.
Now Salt was one kickass frenzied summer blockbuster about a double agent played by the incomparable Angelina Jolie; the film was so densely packed in gravity-defying action sequences it could insouciantly forgo expositions without caring a damn. The Giver on the other hand needs a proper one.
It is here that Noyce falters. He goes for this lazy videogame/music-video-style opening where on-screen text swiftly list out the norms that the Community, the world of this film, has to follow. Jonas, played by a handsome Brenton Thwaites, is introduced and we immediately learn that he’s ‘different’ for he can see flashes of color in an otherwise black-and-white world governed by rules.
Within no time, in a cut-and-move-on-to-the-next-one style, Noyce captures interactions between Jonas, his friends Fiona (Cameron Rush) and Asher (Cameron Monaghan) and his ‘assigned’ parents (played by Alexander Skarsgard and Katie Holmes). So there’s just two dialogues for us to do our math and figure out that his mom is a miserably uptight bitc… I mean woman. Logic tells us it’s a utopian society, but shouldn’t we as viewers able to feel it as one that’s terribly wrong to root for Jonas and The Giver (played by acting titan Jeff Bridges, who also produced the film) as they fight to bring a change?
Other teen-centric films – Hunger Games, Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter, Alice in Wonderland – as well as films that pitted one guy against the world (Bee Movie, Elysium) did bother with setting up their characters more thoroughly and it helped. On the other hand, Noyce’s economical hackneyed (Jonas’ self-introductory narration in the first scene itself) exposition doesn’t. I didn’t understand the logic behind the editing either – if the whole purpose of the establishing scenes is to depict ‘sameness’ in an absurdly sterilized society where emotions have no place and individual opinions matter less, shouldn’t the camera cut less often so go ‘Damn! Living here must be terrible!’ instead of hurriedly jumping from character to character like every scene’s equally momentous?
Both Salt and The Giver work on a similar premise – a character of mystery fights against the system while embarking on an ambiguous challenge that ultimately brings good to the world – but while the former film doesn’t count on plot as its strengths, the latter has to, and so, most adult viewers would expect a meatier offering from Noyce and the film’s writers Michael Mitnick and Robert B. Weide.
The film progresses to Jonas’ sessions with The Giver, after the young lad is chosen as ‘The Receiver’ by watchdogs of the Community known as the Elders, led by Chief Elder (Meryl Streep, who doesn’t have any heavy lifting to do but gets her ‘Meryl Monologue’ towards the end of the film which she unsurprisingly nails). We see him learning about each and everything eliminated by the Elders to attain ‘utopia’ – emotions, colors, arts, seasons, dreams, memories and any other factor that has the slightest chance to cause pain and suffering. While not being as magical as moments between Harry Potter and Dumbledore as they glimpsed through memories of the past using The Pensieve, these scenes are impressively filmed and well acted.
Just as Alice was the only one who could bring peace in Wonderland or Harry Potter the only wizard who could defeat Voldemort, Jonas is the only person who can use his special position to restore the world to its previous state by crossing the ‘boundary’. But along the sessions, he develops a conflicted view about the past – while he cannot understand why the Elders needed to eliminate love or why they dispensed with snow or did away with different races and animal species, he is disturbed by man’s selfish urges to hurt and kill. The Elders have managed to suppress all these urges in humans using ‘morning injections’ which, unless skipped, worked similarly to lobotomy. The Elders also kill by the way, only that they use lethal medicine and term it as ‘release to elsewhere’ without any human having the mental capacity to realize that its murder.
They keep a constant check on everybody using intercom, and there’s no such thing as invasion of privacy in town. So if Chief Elder needs to have a word with Jonas, all she needs to do is pop up as a hologram into his home.
As I was watching The Giver, a lot other movies into my head – other young adult fiction, most of which I’ve mentioned above, the animated short ‘The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore’ (the transformation of a black-and-white world to color), Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, The Lego Movie, The Truman Show, The Clockwork Orange, Citizen Kane – and I bet each and every one of these films shall stay in memory far longer than The Giver would. This movie seems to have been carefully sanitized to work for attention-deficit gen-Y audiences, and if I were to put myself in the position of a 13-15 year old average teenager, I guess The Giver would’ve worked perfectly for me. But to me, a 21 year old with a voracious appetite for books and films, The Giver comes as a bit of a disappointment.