Director: Phillip Noyce
Starring: Brenton Thwaites, Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep
I first read The Giver when I was around 11 years old. Since then, I've probably read it four more times. In my book, that makes it one of the greats. I won't say it's the most well-written novel in history, though Lois Lowry does a fine job, but it's a story that sticks with you & stands out as a stroke of genius. What makes it so wonderful and so rereadable is that it changes each time you check it out. Whatever age you are, whatever experiences you've had, wherever you are in life right now; these things affect how you view the story, what you take as the moral, and which way you interpret the ending. It's a very subjective book, one that is worth discussing, and I guess one that can be envisioned many different ways. This film version of the story wouldn't have been the way that I saw it, didn't give me the same feeling that the novel delivered, and ultimately seemed like someone else's vision. But the plot speaks for itself, and I'm not sure anyone could actually butcher it.
In the future, difference has been eliminated. After years of war & hunger, humans grew tired of always fighting over their distinctions, eventually deciding that sameness offered a more peaceful world. The same weather all the time, the same color skin, the same houses, bikes, clothes, number of children. People are all the same now, with nothing to covet, with only the occupations chosen for them by the Elders to set them apart. Every young adult, when they graduate, is given a job suited to their personality, and Jonas is anxious to find out his. But when he's told that he is the new Receiver of Memory, his life changes forever. He learns from the Giver that life wasn't always this way, that war & danger used to exist, that love & dancing did also, that the world used to be a chaotic & beautiful place that was both unpredictable & lovely. Jonas receives the memories of the past, memories that are kept from the rest of the community in order to keep them happy in their current lives and safe from the pain of the past. But being the only person who remembers guns, music, color, blood; Jonas can't help but feeling completely alone. If only he could share these memories with every one else, help them to learn from old mistakes, lead them down the correct path, perhaps the beauty of the old world could return, leaving the ugliness behind forever.
I expected this movie to stray a lot further from the original text than it actually did. When I first saw the trailer, I was sure that they had abandoned the story, had turned the plot into a Twilight love story, had gone in completely the opposite direction that I would have chosen. I still don't love the vision or the path that they went down for this film, but I have to give them a little credit; they didn't destroy the essence of the book. The story was the same, the idea was the same, it was just all tweened up. It was like they felt compelled to copy Divergent or risk not making any money. As a critic and an audience member, I don't care whether it's a success, I just want to like it. And so, no, this isn't where I would have taken this plot. I wouldn't have made it modern, technologically advanced, ultra hip. I wouldn't have made the love interest the focal point of Jonas' character. And I wouldn't have made the parents and the Elders so cheesy. I would have kept it simple, relied on the text to carry the movie, and probably not made a single buck.
Again, it wasn't horrible. You could tell that they were trying to stick to the book, especially with the characters. Thwaites as Jonas was at least attempting to come off as the scared boy from the novel, trying his best to be both vulnerable and brave. His girl Fiona was OK too; she never went over-the-top with her dramatic scenes. But Jeff Bridges was definitely the saving grace. He's already one of my favorite actors, and had he not been in this film I'd be much less likely to try to stay positive. He made the Giver feel human, which is an interesting topic for discussion by itself, whether or not he was meant to be at all. Some of the side characters were awful, including Katie Holmes, Cameron Monaghan, and especially Taylor Swift. She looked & acted terribly, completely breaking down the fourth wall. I guess she was just another attempt to get the kids on board, to make some money at the box office, even at the expense of the quality of the movie. I guess that's what bothered me the most; the film didn't abandon the story that I love, but they did cheaper it, giving me a crappy version when what I wanted was simply a cinematic retelling. If you're a fan, try to keep your expectations low. If you love Katniss more than life itself, than maybe this is perfect for you.
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