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Sometimes a film just can’t convey all of the ideas of the book it’s adapted from. “The Giver,” based on the 1993 best-seller by Lois Lowry — despite a feeling of genuine attempt and looking all sorts of pretty — is one of those films.
The film, directed by Phillip Noyce, attempts to look at a perennial societal question: If people were more or less the same (in this case, lacking memories and emotions), would it be worth losing the highs — and inevitable lows — that come with living one’s life?
The year is 2048, where all known society has been split up into homogenized communities after some large-scale event.
Whatever emotions citizens have are watered down by unknown daily injections, and peace is kept by daily rules. Most traces of individuality, race and even any sort of color (the film starts in black-and-white) are gone. Despite people having different jobs, class differences are largely absent and no one recalls life before the communities.
The central character is Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), a young community member chosen to be the new Receiver of Memory. In this position, Jonas is tasked with holding all knowledge and memory of the past before the rise of the utopia in order to advise the leading community elders (headed by Meryl Streep, who is given little to do besides coast on the inherent authority of being Meryl Streep).
Jonas is mentored by the titular “Giver” (Jeff Bridges, whose facial landscape of wrinkles and crevices is well suited for black-and-white) who trains him in dealing with the shared human experiences of a humanity long since forgotten, complete with emotions of pain and joy.
These new sights and feelings overwhelm Jonas, and he becomes determined to leave his community and find a way to give all people the emotions and memories of the past.
Even without reading the book, one can’t help but get the feeling a lot of details of the written pages were lost when it was converted into a 90-minute visual experience.
The roller coaster that is the human experience is best conveyed in the flashback sequences the Giver releases into Jonas’s mind. Everything from the simple joys of sledding to the soul-crushing experience of the Vietnam War (given the semi-grainy late 60’s look of the footage) is displayed for the audience and Jonas to experience.
These flashes of memory are the means by which the film communicates the breathtaking joys and incredible heartaches humans go through – and why it is ultimately best for all to feel these things. The beautiful visuals, gradually going from monochrome to vibrant colors as Jonas deals with the memories provided by director of photography Ross Emery, get the point across better than any amount of dialogue.
Though a rocky ending, Noyce shows enough of what’s at stake — the freedom to feel and experience the course of one’s life – for better or worse.
Despite some unnecessary hammering of the theme, a premise that requires almost every character to be emotionless and plays out a nonsensical ending, “The Giver” is a decent movie – just one that can’t entirely handle its subject matter.
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