The Giver: Film Review – A look at what it takes to be human

The world of a regimented society is close at hand. Everyone has rules to follow and always remembers to recycle. We are told what to eat, what to do, whom to be and where to go. Sounds like a dismal prospect, huh? That is the truth though. In The Giver, Phillip Noyce tackles this prickly subject. The movie based on a novel by Lois Lowry. Starring Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Katie Holmes and Alexander Skarsgård, the film has promise. But there is a problem. The hero’s choice seems predestined. There is no conflict of self and no overcoming of difficulty. More on that in a bit.

The film opens in a world of order. We have our hero Jonas (played by Brenton Thwaites) await his chosen fate. He has two close friends, Fiona (played by Odeya Rush) and Asher (played by Cameron Monaghan). He is a part of a family unit. And in this society, there are no wars, no disease, no upheaval and no strife. All they have to do to get by is follow the rules. Led by the Chief Elder (played by Meryl Streep), they live out their days in harmony. All hell breaks loose when the set rules fail to be followed. There needs to be a transference of memories from one living repository to another. The Giver enters here. Played by Jeff Bridges, his duty is to guide Jonas on the path, receiving the memories and using them to advise the community. What happens when you are given the capacity to think for yourself, the capacity to believe in something larger, the hope that might be something larger than yourself to strive for? This is what drives the story. Jonas has to make his choice and in doing so, he needs to decide whether to save the world by plunging it into turmoil or accept his fate. Intrigued? I know I was.

However, there are some issues involved as well. We have seen social Science-fiction films before. There have been a whole slew of them where the story revolves a change and a reluctant hero. Here we are given the same old fare with a twist. There is a transference of memories that is key to the story. Through those memories, there are emotions. I know, this has been explored in other movies in the past. One such film had some pretty cool gun-play (guess which one, the name is another word for equal/balance). What makes this world different is the emphasis on colors and feelings. The depiction of the world is stark and sterile, filled with interesting concepts about the future. But then again, it has been done before. There isn’t anything new. Here is a thought, though. The actors do a good job here. Notably, Jeff Bridges. His portrayal of the Giver makes the movie come alive. As usual, his sheer presence on the screen is a treat to watch. The rest of the cast is passable at best. There isn’t much of a connect with the audience. As the story moves forward, you will wonder when do the actors evolve. From the old guard, only the Dude does his thing (that is Jeff Bridges, 10 points if you can guess the movie where he was the Dude). Of the new kids, they try their level best. On the whole, this is a story of hope and change. The message gets garbled in the end, but hey, it gets out.

Why should you watch this film?
The Giver is based on a book. It has a lot to live up to. The story has some strength but it is dated. The plot is thin and develops very slowly. The movie is a visual treat where the use of color to depict the world is done brilliantly. Meryl Streep is just there to be a part of the whole “elder” bit, but she seems to play the part of a crone. Brenton Thwaites is reasonable as Jonas. In the end, it is the interaction between the Giver and Jonas that make the film worth watching. In this interaction, you get to reach in deep and feel. The movie takes an already used concept and gives it a new twist. But in our day and age, we need to know the full worth of what it means to be human. Only then we stand a chance at being human.  

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