Director: Phillip Noyce
Starring: Brenton Thwaites, Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep
97 mins; Class 12;
KRS Releasing Ltd
And the big screen adaptations of popular young adult novels set in dystopian times roll on unabated.
This time, it is Lois Lowry’s science-fiction novel The Giver to get the treatment and no wonder – the book has sold more than 10 million copies worldwide, is publishing house Harper Collins’s top-selling children’s e-book and it is assigned reading by middle schools throughout the US, garnering a massive and loyal following in the interim.
Like many stories of this ilk, The Giver has a fascinating premise. Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) is a young man who lives in an idyllic future world with his family and friends.
It is a peaceful world, where there is agreement and contentment all around, no conflict based on colour, religion or country, yet where no one has any recollection of who they really are or the secrets of their past.
At his graduation, Jonas is selected by the community’s Chief Elder (Meryl Streep) to be the Receiver of Memories and must spend time with the Giver (Jeff Bridges), the current keeper of all the community’s memories.
The more time they spend together, Jonas realises that the perfect world he lives in is far from being so and that by depriving the community of memory, the authorities are depriving them of truly experiencing life as it should be.
There are many issues raised by the sub-text of The Giver – the idea of conformity and proper behaviour (among the strict rules is the importance of using precise language, which should be adopted here) is admirable.
Yet, the importance of curbing any impulse to be different, unquestioningly accepting benign authority and the sacrifice of self for the greater good, evidently raises issues of stifling individual freedoms.
Lacks the courage of its convictions
The young cast, led by a likable Thwaites, give it all they have got. The actor, whose wide-eyed innocence reminded me of a young Robert Sean Leonard in Dead Poets Society, is convincing enough.
The presence of master thespians Streep and Bridges does give it a little gravitas, notwithstanding the former’s fright wig and the latter’s penchant for mumbling through some of his lines making him a little incoherent at times.
As for production design, it’s fabulous. The world in which our protagonists live is a marvel of art and architecture, designs that are stark but beautiful at the same time and the starkness emphasised in the film’s black and white sequences.
These obviously highlight the monochromatic lives the protagonists lead. In an obvious nod to (or rip-off from) 1998’s Pleasantville, as Jonas’s mind opens up, so does his ability to see the world around him in colour, as he senses new sights and sounds for the first time, each experience magnifying even further the excellence of the film’s look.
Yet in its execution, the whole lacks the courage of its convictions with no sign of the drama necessary to make it as thought-provoking it pretends to be. The many visions handed to Jonas by the Giver – scenes of war and peace, different people around the world and contrasting landscapes are stylishly shot but lack substance, and the whole idea behind the film’s premise –that no one has memories, is not expounded upon in any great detail.
If this is going to be the first of a franchise – as the books are – in the same vein as blockbusting The Hunger Games, it really needs to amp up the context in terms of script and urgency, drama and nail-biting adventure in terms of action.