THE GIVER (2014)

Genre: Sci-Fi
Director: Phillip Noyce
Cast: Brenton Thwaites, Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Alexander Skarsgård, Katie Holmes, Odeya Rush, Taylor Swift
RunTime: 1 hr 28 mins
Rating: PG
Released By: GV
Official Website:

Opening Day: 21 August 2014

Synopsis: The haunting story of THE GIVER centres on Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), a young man who lives in a seemingly ideal, if colourless, world of conformity and contentment. Yet as he begins to spend time with The Giver (Jeff Bridges), who is the sole keeper of all the community’s memories, Jonas quickly begins to discover the dark and deadly truths of his community’s secret past. With this newfound power of knowledge, he realises that the stakes are higher than imagined — a matter of life and death for himself and those he loves most. At extreme odds, Jonas knows that he must escape their world to protect them all — a challenge that no one has ever succeeded at before. THE GIVER is based on Lois Lowry’s beloved young adult novel of the same name, which was the winner of the 1994 Newbery Medal and has sold over 10 million copies worldwide.

Movie Review: 

At this point, you can be forgiven for feeling fatigued by the recent glut of YA-lit adaptations of the dystopian variety, but before you write off ‘The Giver’, know that Lois Lowry’s Newbery Medal-winning novel in fact pre-dated Suzanne Collins’ ‘The Hunger Games’ and Veronica Roth’s ‘Divergent’ by about 18 years. And that means, rather than the other way round, both Collins and Roth probably got some of their ideas from Lowry’s 1993 bestseller, although ironically it took both these hits to convince that ‘The Giver’ was ripe for the big screen.

Instrumental in shepherding this long-gestating adaptation from print to screen is Jeff Bridges, who plays the titular character that is so named because he is only one that holds the collective remembrances of a long-gone society. The rest of its members know not of where they came from, but only of what is necessary - in order to prevent a repeat of the catastrophe which led to the collapse of mankind (referred to as The Ruin), the all-seeing and all-hearing Council of Elders deemed it essential to eliminate difference and emphasise sameness through a conduct of strict rules, imposed politeness and language precision, as well as a daily dose of medication which suppresses feelings.

It is also within this context that it had been decided there should only be one person amidst the community who knows their history, his role to offer advice to the elders when the need arises. That is the responsibility for which our lead protagonist Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) has been selected for at a ritualised graduation ceremony marking his transition from adolescence to maturity, his weighty mantle of Receiver of Memories in contrast to the more commonplace roles which his good buddy Asher (Cameron Monaghan) or his teenage crush Fiona (Odeya Rush) have been chosen for - as a drone pilot or a Nurturer for newborns respectively.

So Jonas goes off daily to the edge of the known world to learn from The Giver, a wise but jaded Elder still reeling from his failed prior attempt to pass on his knowledge to a young woman named Rosemary (Taylor Swift in a glorified cameo). Yet Jonas isn’t just learning the memories as if they were facts off an encyclopaedia; rather, he is experiencing them through the Giver, these feelings spanning a gamut from emotional highs, sensory rushes, music, dance, and most of all, the concept of love. Why would anyone want to deny others the opportunity to feel such joys, Jonas asks?

It is only logical therefore that Jonas defies the rules to share the pleasures of feeling with his loved ones - his family (Alexander Skarsgard and Katie Holmes as his parents and Emma Tremblay as his little sister) and Fiona - much to the chagrin of the Chief Elder (Meryl Streep), who regards his behaviour as nothing less than sedition. But Jonas’ struggle is both within and without; even as he tries to escape the grasp of the Chief Elder and her security forces sent to retrieve him, he finds himself struggling to come to terms with the darker side of human nature - violence, war, greed and tragedy.

At the end of the day, Lowry poses this question to her readers, a question which this adaptation retains with sparkling clarity. Is it possible for mankind to choose love, not hate, peace, not war, and choice, not denial? Of course, the movie does, like the book, take a stand against sameness by emphasising the beauty in diversity, and above all, the wonder of experience. Purists may object to certain liberties which Michael Mitnick and Robert B. Weide’s screenplay takes with the book, but we’re glad to say however that the essence of Lowry’s classic remains beautifully captured here.

Director Phillip Noyce does take the movie one step further than the book by using colour as metaphor - the first half hour unfolds in flat black and white, gradually transitioning from muted to saturated colour by the time it reaches the extended action climax. Amidst the burst of colour, his choice of montages from sunsets to tribal dances to Renaissance wedding ceremonies to the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest and even Nelson Mandela is stirring to say the very least, and it’s hard not to be moved by his personal salute to the human spirit.

Just as convincing is Thwaites, the actor best remembered for his role as the handsome prince in ‘Maleficient’ acquitting himself well with an engaging yet thoughtful performance that we hope puts naysayers’ doubts to rest about upping Jonas’ age in the movie. Bridges lends a steady old hand playing the grizzled Giver, though it is a pity that he doesn’t share more scenes with Streep, whose acting talents are grossly underused in a nondescript villainous role that doesn’t require her to do much more than look menacing - yes, Bridges and Streep do share a scene towards the end of the movie, and boy are these veterans compelling to watch.

Thankfully, the same can also be said of the movie as a whole, which will more than banish any skepticism you may have about it due to genre (and possibly, thematic) fatigue. Yes, ‘The Giver’ may follow in the wake of more higher-profile franchises like ‘The Hunger Games’ or ‘Divergent’, but it Is easily more thought-provoking than either of them as a cautionary tale against conformity and obedience. Is the world a better place without emotion? Is the world a better place without diversity? Should life be led as choice or conformity? In a summer with too much bombast, this is a surprisingly intelligent little picture that deserves to be seen. 

Movie Rating:

(Far better than your average YA-lit adaptation, this thought-provoking and visually stimulating science fiction offers a compelling portrait of human nature at its best and worst)

Review by Gabriel Chong



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