Imagine a perfect world without pain. A world without suffering, without agony and without misery. Life without fear. This is the world “The Giver” imagines. But a bargain such as this one cannot exist without evil demands.
“The Giver” is that one dystopian novel by Lois Lowry that every kid is forced to read during middle school. It is a truly thought-provoking experience and it is because of this novel that young minds are able to embark on a journey towards the far shores of critical thinking. It introduces the conceptual possibility of a hybrid form between good and evil. “The Giver” illustrates that one can draw a line between sacrifice and reality — between a perfect dream and a horrible truth.
Whilst the movie does a lot of things wrong, it does one thing extremely well: casting. The Chief Elder (Meryll Streep) and The Giver (Jeff Bridges) act as the stars they are — two of the most (if not the most) talented actors of our era. But even though they’re excellent — and it is hard to stress how consistently excellent they have been throughout their career, and this movie is no exception — it is still hard to feel anything towards the movie, past the childish attachment to the novel. It is not an immersive experience, nor the culmination of high expectations. The film is not bad; it just isn’t good enough.
“The Giver” is founded upon the premise of a post-apocalyptic world. However, it is not a dystopia in the usual canon destructive manner we’re accustomed to seeing from this genre. Not everything is lost and humanity has not vanished in the ashes of civilization. There is no merciless cruelty ravishing the land, nor do the strong prey on the weak; social organization and institutional forceful drug consumption erase, eliminate, purify these aspects. Difference has been officially abolished.
The idea behind this post-apocalyptic world is much more intellectually subtle than others. There is no necessity to know what happened previously, how the world as we know it came to an end — to such an extent, that all memory is annihilated.
It is in this “perfect” world that the story of “The Giver” is told. In one of the multiple “Communities” that surged from the downfall of civilization, a young boy awaits “The Elders” to announce what his destiny shall be. At an early age, every child’s career is predetermined according to the traits they have shown during their youth and development. Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) is deemed worthy of enduring the highest honor the Community has to give — becoming the Receiver of memories. He shall soon discover what lies beneath the surface of this impeccably ideal Community, as he will receive the knowledge of humanity’s history: life, passion and emotion — things now forcibly forgotten for the greater good of peace and equality.
The premise of abolishing difference and inequality in order to achieve the absence of conflict through uniformity is an interesting one. However, the movie does not quite capture the essence or spirit that the novel transmits. The social and philosophical implications — which are the factors that make this allegorical work of fiction valuable beyond the somewhat generic storyline — are absent from the movie. The adaptation simplifies; it submits to Hollywood’s appetite for monetary success and is intellectually undemanding. It does so to the extent that it vastly changes the age of the protagonist: Jonas evolves from an 11 to 12 year old — first struggling to become an adolescent while drastically transitioning to a post-pubescent (and more muscular) version of himself.
The movie never seems to feel comfortable with itself. It never fully develops an idea to analyze in depth. The chromatic development of the movie, which starts in black and white, and evolves into a boringly generic palette of colors, is supposed to be superbly symbolic and emotional, representing difference and the breaking of pure harmony. However, it falls unimpressive and shallow, as do the rest of the emotions that are intended to be mandatorily enforced. It is a somewhat superficial production that will leave the audience with the feeling of having watched a post-apocalyptic “Pleasantville” that betrayed their childhood novel.
“The Giver” is running at UA Berkeley 7.
Contact David Socol at [email protected].