Friday, 5 September 2014

The Giver

The Giver is another dystopian future film, this one set in an isolated community where emotions/passions are forbidden because they may lead to violence and where conformity is required for the same reason. Knowledge of the past has been erased, except in the case of one man: The Giver (played by Jeff Bridges). The young Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) has just been assigned to his official role as The Receiver of Memory (to learn from The Giver), but the very qualities which got him the assignment make him a dangerous choice and unforeseen consequences for the community are the inevitable result.

Unlike previous dystopian future films aimed at a young audience, The Giver, directed by Phillip Noyce, has not become a blockbuster. Indeed, it is doing only a small fraction of the box office of its predecessors. The Giver has also been generally panned by the major critics.

Some of this failure is unfair, because The Giver is being punished for waiting too long to be made into a film. Written in 1993, long before the boom in young adult dystopian fiction (which is highlighted by The Hunger Games and Divergent series), The Giver only got filmed after the success of similar films. Unfortunately, viewers now see The Giver as just copying the others instead being an original story.

Some of The Giver’s failure is, however, deserved, especially because the ending gets completely out of hand, highlighting the implausibility and inconsistencies which can be found throughout the film. Examples abound, but I will mention just a few: 1) The role of the community elder (played by Meryl Streep) is very confusing, because she knows some things that no one else does, but not others, and because she orders a violent act but then allows the victim of that violence inexplicable and dangerous freedoms. 2) Every part of the community is monitored, but no one is watching. It is only afterwards that the tapes are consulted. These are signs, for me, of a poorly-written screenplay.

Nevertheless, I found many things to like in The Giver. While the acting is never exceptional, it is quite solid, with Bridges as the stand-out. The score, while often overwhelming and manipulative, is very good and sometimes well-used. The cinematography is excellent. Most importantly, The Giver, despite being nowhere near as fleshed out as the novel (so I’m told), gives us lots to think about (e.g. the role of differences and emotions in a society, the role of war and starvation, the horrors of legalism, quotes like: “People cannot be allowed to make choices, because they are weak and greedy and so every choice they make is wrong.”). I also appreciated the similarities to one of my favourite films, Pleasantville.

The bottom line is that I am a sucker for entertaining dystopian films and I found enough to like to give The Giver a solid ***. My mug is up.

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