Adapting a Newberry Medal novel into a 90-minute film is a risky undertaking, but it’s been on the to-do list of Jeff Bridges for the last 20 years. With the help of several prominent actors and Director Phillip Noyce (Salt), Bridges’ dream has finally hit the big screen.
Eighteen-year-old Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) lives in a utopian society that’s wiped of all emotion and memory. Upon reaching the appropriate age, elders assign each member to a position in the community during a Ceremony.
When Jonas and friends Fiona (Odeya Rush) and Asher (Cameron Monaghan) reach the day of the Ceremony, Chief Elder (Meryl Streep) appoints Jonas as the Receiver of Memory. Each day, Jonas visits an old man called The Giver (Jeff Bridges) who shares memories of the old world with Jonas so he is better equipped to give advice to the elders.
Jonas begins longing to experience the emotions, music and colors of this new world he visits each day rather than that of the black-and-white sameness of the society he returns to. Jonas and The Giver must work together to revive the community and remove the colorless veil that protects it.
While watching The Giver, don’t attribute drab character personalities to poor acting. The premise of the community is colorlessness and sameness, and the characters do a wonderful job of portraying this. Their voices and actions are devoid of emotion. For example, Jonas’ family unit cares for a baby while he “catches up” with the rest of the babies. One day, nurturers decided that Gabriel will never “catch up,” and he is set to be released to Elsewhere, or to be blunt, killed. The family feels no sadness at this loss, despite Gabriel living in their home for nearly a year.
Each member of the community is required to take a daily medication that suppresses emotions. After Jonas receives stimulating memories from The Giver, such as dancing at a wedding and sailing at sunset, he experiments with this new idea of emotions by skipping his medication. It’s exciting to watch Jonas develop from drab to dynamic, and Thwaites does an excellent job of gradually revealing this change to the audience.
The film brilliantly harnesses the power of color, a luxury the book is not afforded. Showing scenes in black and white perfectly depicts the colorless society. As Jonas’ transformation happens while meeting with The Giver, color is splashed on the screen in the form of an apple, eye color and leaves. Additionally, each memory he receives is shown vibrantly, attaching visual appeal with emotion, which is almost too much for Jonas to handle.
These memory-sharing scenes are moving. They start simple with a snowy night and reach the complexity of war. Jonas receives glimpses into every culture and every range of emotion. The audience relates to these memories, because we live them every day. Although it’s difficult to accept the pain of death, we are reminded that with the absence of pain comes the absence of love.
The Giver may come as a disappointment to those looking for an exact replica of the book, but Noyce and crew put together a quality viewing experience. The creative approach, strong acting and central theme are enough to make the film worth the watch. The Giver rallies viewers together around the richness of humanity.