Written by: Michael Mitnick & Robert B. Weide
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Brenton Thwaites, Alexander Skarsgård, Katie Holmes
For better or worse, life brings a vast collection of joy and pain packages in different moments for us to experience. Our own decision-making, sheer luck, and systematic structures dictate the balance of how much we experience of each, but the freedom to express it comes with the bargain we make when entering the world. Set in what should be a utopian future, The Giver explores a time where everything becomes sanitized for the sake of safety and control to a negative degree.
After a supposed cataclysmic event, everything in the world has been minimized and controlled by a few called the Elders. They have eliminated all of life’s issues, such as crime and pain but it also comes with the loss of other things like memories, emotions, and other aspects that make us human. The only person who holds the memories for the world is the Receiver of Memory. Chosen to be the next in line, the young Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) begins to learn more about memories, which breaks away from everything he has been taught.
The entire concept following through The Giver reminds me why I love the science-fiction genre so much. It allows us to dream of real-world issues but expands it with enough glitz and imagination to have big-picture ideas to break it all down. This particular framework imagines a place where all things get stripped from humanity, including individualism for the sake of removing all of the negative facets of life. In a sense, I appreciate the effort in trying to eliminate pain from society. Life can be seen as a practice in mitigating pain and maximizing joy, but the premise of this story asks whether it should all be thrown out together for the sake of avoiding one. Similarly with the saying of “cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face.” It raises a valuable question but I wish the film executed its idea in a visual manner more effectively.
Utilizing the best-selling book many were told to read in grade school, this feature had the right material, it just needed to put it all together to visually match the source material and it just never comes together fully. It had such interesting concepts and ideas to work with but the visuals could not match up mostly because it all looks pretty shoddy. The production design, which should really set the tone for what this world looks like compared to ours, does not present a future without the supposed benefits this sanitation would bring. Without properly establishing this world, the other alternative becomes too easy of a choice, as a result failing the overall material.
The switch from black-and-white shrouding everything in the world in order to avoid envy does not have the pop one would imagine from how beautiful it should be. Perhaps it comes from the oversaturation of some of the colors putting too much of an emphasis, thus removing the true beauty the natural world has to provide. Almost trying too hard to sell the power of seeing in color only to make it overall a worse visual experience, which, once again, does not assist in what the story wants to tell overall.
In addition, the acting was just not up to snuff for what the material demands. Yes, it has an impressive cast amongst the adults as it includes legends like Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges, but everyone else just comes forward as lackluster additions not allowing this feature to shine in a way it probably should. This becomes mostly evident in the lead protagonist. Now, I do not want to be harsh on young actors, but at the very least they need to keep a certain level of engagement. They do not need to be providing award-worthy performances but the lack of energy Brenton Thwaites has in this role makes everything just a duller affair as a result. Whenever he acted across Jeff Bridges, it almost became difficult to watch the mismatch of talent and what they brought to the screen. Not entirely his fault, but if we’re following a specific character for a majority of the film, they need to have a certain factor to make them someone worth following in a world this captivating on an intellectual level.
Brilliant in its concept, as provided by the source material but ultimately a complete bore on a visual level, The Giver is truly a mixed bag. The team tasked with bringing this to the big screen could not fully capture what makes the ideas in this novel so unique and worth exploring and the rest of the production follows. I would love to see another take on this material, seeing as this iteration just did not cut the mustard for what a concept like this explores about us as humans.