Remember reading the short novel in school? Now, you can experience the movie. Yes, I am really behind with this one…I was on a short vacation for several days. Although you may have seen it this past weekend, if you have yet to make time to see it, it’s definitely one that you and your friends or date can enjoy. Unfortunately, this movie presents, at best, a satisfactory cinema experience. Having not read the novel, I cannot compare and contrast the screenplay to the originating literature. On the positive side, this movie really has all the elements of a well produced and directed film. However, the movie is quite rushed and ends with the audience wondering “was that it…it’s over?”
Upon watching the first few minutes of the movie, I was quick to draw the conclusion that this was another Hunger Games or Divergent; but, a colleague of mine was quick to point out that the children’s novel The Giver, written by Lois Lowry, was released in 1993. So, if anything, the novel The Giver served as the source of inspiration for The Hunger Games and Divergent. Looking at the larger picture, The Giver appears to be the product of some junior executive at Walden Media and the Weinstein Company deciding that these types of movies are what people want to see, and decided to produce yet another movie featuring attractive young people challenging their respective societal norms to better society by promoting individuality over “sameness.” Although it’s a plot that is relatively new, it is getting old quickly. But, it’s a sure fire way to get tweens and teens to get their parents to spend money on movies and books.
The setting is a utopian society where in the year 2048, after a big war, “the community” had decided to get rid of colors, therefore different races, and feelings, such as love and anger, because they felt that they only caused conflict. In their community, everything is about sameness, thus there is no money or social status, everyone owns the same things, and everyone lives in a same sized house. There are ceremonies each year to celebrate the age of a child, culminating at age 18 with the “Ceremony of Growth”, where children are assigned careers. Jonas, the main character, thinking he has been skipped over at the ceremony by the chief elder (played by Meryl Streep), is assigned the job “receiver of memory” because not one in the society, except for select elders, have any memory of life before [what is referred to as] “project sameness.” Yet as Jonas begins to spend time with The Giver (Jeff Bridges), who is the sole keeper of all the community’s memories, Jonas quickly begins to discover the dark and deadly truths of his community’s secret past. With this newfound power of knowledge, he realizes that the stakes are higher than imagined – a matter of life and death for himself and those he loves most. At extreme odds, Jonas knows that he must escape their world to protect them all – a challenge that no one has ever succeeded at before.
The biggest problem with the movie is the structure and pacing. It’s always difficult to watch a movie that has all the right elements and dynamics, but fails to fully develop them due to cramming the movie into a 90min run time. A well-written movie (or screenplay) is divided up into three distinct acts. The Giver feels like it only has two acts. And, the first act takes up most of the movie, leaving the climax and resolution to makeup the last 15-20mins. Jeff Bridges delivers a commanding and convincing performance as the Giver but Meryl Streep delivers just a satisfactory performance for her character, the Chief Elder. The characters, plot, and direction really build up the movie and generate anxiety and anticipation for what is to come next. But, then the movie is over. And the audience is left feeling like they need more. Think of it this way. Remember being a virgin, and going to have sex for the first time? Remember how the foreplay and anticipation were amazing and thrilling, but then you popped too quickly and your partner was left with “oh, is that it…is it over?” That’s pretty much this movie, in a nut shell.
All in all, it is a very satisfactory cinema experience. It’s not terrible, but not very memorable either. Perhaps it will inspire a new generation of young people to read the 1993 children’s novel. Some of the cinematography is beautiful and really complements the big screen. So, you will not feel like you wasted your money on the $8-10 ticket to watch this movie in theatres.