It’s funny that audiences are finally getting a film adaptation of The Giver now that all of its imitators in the publishing world have gotten their chance to shine—I’m looking at you, Divergent. However, does the original prove to be the master or just another wreck on the rough seas of young adult film adaptations?
The answer lies a little bit in the middle. The world of The Giver is a little more plausible than the one in Divergent, but at the same time, there are a few inconsistencies that left me scratching my head. The film is set in a future society where everyone is the same. People are assigned jobs, spouses, and children, and emotions have been eliminated. Everyone in the “Community,” a large city built on a plateau/mountaintop, can only see in black and white—literally. Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) is different. He sees things that others cannot and keeps his abilities secret from even his lifelong friends Fiona (Odeya Rush) and Asher (Cameron Monaghan). When the time comes for Jonas to be placed in his job for adulthood, he is chosen as the Receiver of Memories, the person who will hold all of humanity’s memories and emotions. The person who will train Jonas in this is known as the Giver (Jeff Bridges) and he gives Jonas a new set of rules to follow, contradictory to the rules imposed on the Community as a whole. What Jonas learns from the Giver is completely at odds with what he’s been taught his whole life. The thought of what his life is and what it could be threatens to destroy both Jonas and the Community.
Certain aspects of The Giver I liked very much. I liked the characters and became invested in Jonas’ story, but minor implausibilities took me out of the story at times. I never did read the novel by Lois Lowry, but from what I understand, the ending is ambiguous. The film is no different, but a little more explanation of the world would have made the conclusion more satisfying on a technical level. If that sounds positively vague, it’s because I don’t want to spoil anything. I also felt the movie was a little short. I would have liked to see a little more development of the Jonas/Fiona relationship, but I have a feeling it is already advanced from the book, where the characters are closer to age twelve than eighteen, like they are in the film. The ultimate issue is with the character of the Giver, though. If he holds all of humanity’s memories, there should be no mysteries about the Community from him, yet Jonas’ mission at the end felt like it had an air of uncertainty to it that didn’t fit with what we know about the world. I did like the world of The Giver, though, and felt that it made much more sense than that of the derivative Divergent.
The acting is all good here. Bridges is great as the Giver, while Thwaites holds his own as Jonas. Meryl Streep is subtly sinister as the Chief Elder, who tries everything she can to keep her society from breaking apart. Rush and Monaghan are good, but we don’t get nearly enough time with them. Katie Holmes and Alexander Skarsgård do fine work as Jonas’ parents.
Overall, I liked a lot about The Giver. It had good characters and nice ideas, but the execution prevented it from being great. Now, it’s just a decent little sci-fi film that should have been epic considering all the books and films it inspired. So, decent, but should have been better.