The Giver is directed by Phillip Noyce who has a solid back catalogue with films such as Salt (2010), The Quiet American (2002) and The Bone Collector (1999). Michael Mitnick and Robert B. Weide are responsible for the screenplay. This is Mitnick’s first writing credit while Weide has a background in writing for documentaries.
The film is based on a successful 1993 novel by Lois Lowry and follows a seemingly perfect community that exists on a Lost World type plateau in the clouds. It is a society in which there is no greed, no envy, no conflict. The society is overseen by a group of benevolent elders who make decisions for the good of everyone. At the age of 18 members of the community are assigned their roles that they will perform until they are retired to ‘elsewhere’.
Much to his surprise a young man, Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), is given the role of Receiver of Memories. He will become responsible for holding the historical memories of the community. Jonas is placed under the tutelage of The Giver (Jeff Bridges) who is responsible for passing on these memories and preparing him for the ‘pain’ he will have to endure. His experiences strengthen his rebellious tendencies as he starts to see the community in a whole new light.
It is impossible not to draw comparisons with The Hunger Games (2012) and Divergent (2014) as The Giver is aimed at the same audience. It has at its heart the same idea of a structured society with assigned roles that might not be all as it seems. It also has echoes of The Village (2004) with the boundary that no-one shall pass and a little bit of Logan’s Run (1976). It is unfortunate that these comparisons are going to be drawn because the source material pre-dates the others by the best part of twenty years.
In some respects it is a more ambitious project in that it relies much less on action and far more on emotion and exploration of the human spirit. At its heart is an exploration of human identity and the importance of memory and emotion with regards to how we see ourselves. There is a scene towards the end of the film where The Giver argues with the Chief Elder, Glenn Close, over whether the community should be left as it is or whether it should be allowed to re-engage with the reality of its past. Ultimately it is a conundrum that I haven’t been able to resolve, I just know that human beings are not perfect and the ideal society does not and cannot exist.
The result of this approach is that The Giver will not be as audience friendly as its massively successful peers. It has other problems in that the supporting cast isn’t very strong. Any film that features Katie Holmes gives one pause for thought. This means that every-time the film strays away from the central pairing I lost interest and wanted to go back into The Giver’s library to experience more of that world. Jeff Bridges is Jeff Bridges but I was impressed by Thwaites who I last saw in Maleficent (2014) as Prince Phillip in a role so memorable I hadn’t realised he was in it. Fortunately the young Aussie does well to carry this film on his shoulders as he is by far and away the best actor among the younger cast members.
In summary for all of its problems I was impressed by the emotional power of this film although it sagged when it strayed from its central exploration of human identity. It had far more ambition that The Hunger Games or Divergent and explored darker subjects but sadly it wasn’t as satisfactory as an overall viewing experience. Bravo to the film makers for bringing this material to the screen and hopefully it will do well enough to encourage studios to take more chances.