To give author Lois Lowry credit, she made dystopias cool before they were cool. Her novel, The Giver, is a trend-setter in the world of fictional power-abusing authorities. I first read The Giver when I was nine, and the story has stuck with me ever since. Such imagery, such depth of meaning… The story makes our troubled world look animated and wild compared to a future society where people honestly ask, “What is colour?” However, they also ask, “What is war?” The story of The Giver is a standalone philosophy class, filled with unanswerable questions and Aha Moments. In order to turn this classic into a successful film, all other aspects (cinematography, acting, direction) had to come together and match the high level of the story. Sadly, it looks like the makers put too much faith in their strong plot and not enough effort into the background stuff, making The Giver look like an old mirror nearly buried by grimy age and attic-residue.
We begin the movie with Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) on his graduation day – the day teens are given their life-long careers. Unlike the others in his class, Jonas is awarded the rare job of becoming a Receiver of Memory and is put under the supervision of the Giver (Jeff Bridges). Jonas’ training consists of story-telling and very dramatic hand-holding in which the Giver shares all the memories of mankind, teaching the previously brainwashed Jonas why their present society (with no choice, no love, and no conflict) is better than the chaos of the past (our present). Being shown the perils of an unruly world with sunsets and music, Jonas is bombarded with a PMS-level influx of emotions and is driven to question the rules of his community. He takes it upon himself to challenge the system and the grey by bringing a symbolic red apple with him into almost every scene.
Colours in The Giver are HUGE. Everything is in greyscale until Jonas sees a sunset for the first time and is literally knocked over by the light. Colour seeps out here and there, with little accents of red or de-saturated scenery, as if the colour itself hates being hidden. I find it interesting, however, that as soon as Jonas starts to see colours around him, he notices children all wearing red, and hospital workers all in blue; it’s amazing how the grey-seeing garment-makers can colour-code every uniform so perfectly. Would they be embarrassed if suddenly everyone’s grey-veil dropped and the black-clad pilots were actually dressed in clashing shades of fuchsia, red, and tropical sunrise?
The film clearly sees artistic potential in accenting colours, but The Giver loses itself in basic camera-work. Memories are meant to be blurry, but when we the viewers are seeing them on screen, whipping the camera back and forth and de-focusing shots is less ‘artsy’ and more ‘dizzy’. Some shots are also…what’s the word… pixilated? I’m so used to high-definition everything I don’t know how to describe bad-quality film anymore. Not dark, not quite blurry – just bad resolution.
But, The Giver does introduce some very disturbing questions about eugenics. Only the strong are meant to survive, and when they get old, we send them to “Elsewhere”. I think it’s safe to guess “Elsewhere” isn’t Florida. Is it better to live in comfortable ignorance, or delight in the emotions of Now, made all the more real because we fear the Then?
Great questions, poor filming – that’s what The Giver comes down to. Despite the surprisingly recognizable/well-stocked cast (Meryl Streep, Alexander Skarsgård, Jeff Bridges, Katie Holmes), I’m completely torn on a final score. The film brought back fond memories of the book and raised some excellent questions about what makes a perfect society, but the filmmaking itself was unpolished. Jeff Bridges was compelling but (I can’t believe I’m saying this) Meryl Streep was a little dull. I know, I speak blasphemy and await my lightning bolt. I have to give The Giver 5/10 because I can’t justify it being good or bad. It is stuck in the middle of being philosophically beautiful but rough around the edges.
Click here for The Giver trailer.