by Jason Koenigsberg
The Giver based on the beloved book by Lois Lowry is a faithful adaptation of a dystopian future. Directed by Phillip Noyce (Patriot Games, Salt) it has the look of a veteran craftsman with a crisp and vibrant color palette that is vital to the plot and themes in the story.
The exposition does unfortunately feel too rushed. Obviously we do not have enough time to fully establish the setting and characters like the novel does, however they could have spent more time developing the narrative in the beginning.Think about the way James Cameron established the his exposition in Avatar or even how Peter Weir led the audience into the world he created for The Truman Show and you will see where this movie slightly missed the mark.Instead we get hasty voice over from our main character Jonas (played by Brendan Thwaites) explaining the world he lives in and how he sees it differently from his friends. We are entering a future world based on “sameness” where everything is black and white, and there is no competition, no fear, no jealousy, no emotions, no choice and everything is taken literally and serves a specific purpose.
This is where the cinematography becomes such an important aspect to the film; it acts almost like a character. The first act of The Giver is practically all in gorgeous black and white photography. There are glimpses of color seen only by Jonas who explains how he sees colors that nobody else can. The plot is an Orwellian coming of age story in the guise of 1984 or Logan’s Run. Our main character Jonas is chosen to be the new “Receiver” for his community. He will work one-on-one with the “Giver” played by Jeff Bridges where he receives memories from the past, which will in turn evoke an emotional reaction. This results in Jonas being able to see more colors and slowly the colors become more sharp and effervescent as Jonas takes on more and more memories and emotions.
Since the cinematography was so expertly crafted I wish the films pacing was able to match it. When Jonas first starts seeing his world in color it should have been like Dorothy when she first steps out of the black and white and into the magical Oz, or when we first enter Pandora in Avatar. Nothing about The Giver had that sense of a mythical quality or a feeling of urgency and importance behind it. They just took what was in the book and told it faithfully as it is. The Giver should have taken more time developing the world that the audience is entering then perhaps the changes in its cinematography and its characters would have felt more dramatic.
The movie does feel like a product of its time with some of the scenes staged like they were trying to appeal to the “tween” crowds that made Twilight, The Hunger Games, and Divergent such big hits, all of which are based on books for young adults. I was pleasantly surprised to see that The Giver does not shy away from certain scenes in the novel which I would have thought they would have changed or omitted in order to make the film easier to digest for their target audience. I am glad the film does not water down any of the difficult scenes dealing with Jonas as he learns the shocking truth about what it means to be “released into elsewhere” in his community. It faithfully captures the themes about humanity, love and loss from the novel.
Despite its shortcomings, The Giver does work and makes a successful film adaptation. The acting across the board is great, particularly noteworthy are Jeff Bridges as the title character, who really plays him exactly how most readers imagined him, and Meryl Streep who’s character of the “Chief Elder” had really only one scene in the novel but is fleshed out much more in the film to provide the main antagonist to Jonas as the person trying to ensure that order is maintained and people do not have the ability to have freedom of choice and emotional reactions. Both are Oscar winning actors adding another great performance to their legendary filmography. Ultimately it is a very faithful and satisfying big screen adaptation of Lois Lowry’s novel.