Unfortunately for The Giver, Phillip Noyce’s filmic adaptation of the 1993 young adult book of the same name, those young enough to have read and appreciated the book are now at an age where they won’t enjoy it. The film’s target audience is clearly a younger crowd, and the original fans will have outgrown its childlike presentation. A new fan base could potentially form, however it would appear doubtful given the film’s lackluster acting and overall cloying plot.
It’s a story with a simple, effective message: living in a society with no hate, war, pain, or negativity leads to a carefree existence. But with that way of life also comes ignorance of the world, and an utter lack of uniqueness. Alternatively, living in a world that does have all of the supposedly negative qualities also has things like color, beauty, and love. The film follows Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), a young man who is selected to be to the “Receiver” of memory (i.e. the history of the world) from the “Giver” (played by Jeff Bridges)—an old grump who lives on the edge (literally) of their society. As the two begin meeting more and more, Jonas is given visual access to the beauty of the world by way of some pretty serious hand holding with The Giver. His previous black and white world slowly begins to gain color. The majority of the film is actually filmed in black and white, giving us a taste of the community’s bland existence. In addition, the set is all highly modern—a style commonly used to represent the banality and emptiness of society (think Jacques Tati). Jonas and The Giver eventually decide it would be in everyone’s best interest to unload the world’s history, restoring the beauty, along with all the pain, to their existence.
The Giver’s strong point is its luscious black and white portions in conjunction with the occasional slow motion shot. This artistic choice is certainly not common among bigger budget movies, especially not those made for a younger audience. Avid fans of the book will certainly be pleased with this aspect. Additionally, it’s hard not to get goose bumps during the climactic (albeit slightly manipulative) collection of archival footage from around the world representing beauty and love.
For any fan hoping to see their favorite childhood novel fully justified on the big screen will probably be let down. Adaptations that cross mediums are, after all, completely different by nature. Regardless, the film’s overall effect is disappointing. The Giver’s biggest chance, then, is perhaps that younger generation who is not familiar with the book. Or, maybe the glib decision to cast big names like Meryl Streep and even Taylor Swift (for a whopping five minutes, but don’t worry she sings) will bring in a decent audience.
The Giver opens today in Philly area theaters.
Author: Catherine Haas
Catherine Haas is a native Philadelphian who received her master’s in film history from Columbia University. She is a freelance film programmer, writer, and an avid pug enthusiast.