THE GIVER. Science fiction with potential. Is it utilized?

After finishing the film, there’s a sense that The Giver is a beautifully wrapped box with an expensive ribbon, but inside…


6 May 2024

the giver

Film by Phillipa Noyce – the creator of Salt and The Bone Collector – presents a utopian vision of a future society where class differences have been eliminated, each individual’s destiny is determined by the Elders, and human emotions are suppressed using special drugs. This might sound familiar to many of you, likely because the theme of totalitarian future utopias has been explored in cinema for a long time – practically since 1927, with Fritz Lang’s silent film Metropolis, through François Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451 (1966), Marc Brambill’s Demolition Man (1993), the excellent Equilibrium (2002) by Kurt Wimmer, to less successful or ambitious productions like The Hunger Games (2012) or Divergent (2014). However, this doesn’t mean that approaching the topic creatively and adding one’s own, not at all unnecessary, perspective is impossible. Unfortunately, despite the director of The Giver battling valiantly, his contribution fell short. Although the potential was there.

Noyce’s film (based on Lois Lowry’s novel – The Giver) tells the story of Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) – a member of one of the so-called Communities, living in harmony within specially designated settlements emerging from sea clouds. Jonas is on the brink of adulthood. Soon he will undergo the Ceremony, a ritual assigning an adult function and place in society, which he will occupy for the rest of his life, working for the common good and not standing out among other Community members. However, as we learn, the Elders have planned something special for Jonas. He will become the Receiver of Memory, the bearer of human experiences from past eras that no one remembers anymore. His function in society, following the Latin maxim “history is life’s teacher,” will be to advise the Elders on political moves. But if there is a Receiver, there must also be a Giver, with whom Jonas will soon begin his training. This training involves not only learning about human history but also the valuable lesson of human passions – answering the question of what it really means “to be human,” what it means to love, hate, and feel pain.

The potential of The Giver, as mentioned earlier, lies in the compelling force of the film’s exposition. The depicted world genuinely intrigues us and makes us want to understand the mechanisms of this entirely foreign future society. We see a city in the clouds, cubist homes called Dwellings where “family units” reside instead of families. We notice neatly designed streets and lawns, finally focusing on the trio of characters speeding around on peculiar bicycles. Additionally, we sense something in the air when the main character continually experiences strange flashes, glimpsing colors, or being fascinated by seemingly insignificant elements of reality. However, weariness and increasing disappointment set in when the film’s creators satisfy our curiosity about the depicted world and shift to the sensational plot wrapped in a pseudo-philosophical conflict between the Giver and Receiver versus the Elders. Once we “immerse” ourselves in the diegesis and understand its governing rules, we instantly lose interest in broadly drawn characters and how their fates will unfold (although it’s not really difficult to guess). Furthermore, the presented world, initially intriguing with its mysteries, starts to become annoying due to its full of absurdities and shorthand solutions – such as the idea of a barrier that can be crossed to restore people’s memories and, consequently, their humanity (and if we’re talking about absurdities, we can’t overlook the motorcycle chase and high-altitude snow climbing with a baby in tow…).

the giver

Without exception, all the characters in The Giver are superficially written, yet it’s evident that the old guard, namely Meryl Streep (as the Chair of the Elders) and Jeff Bridges (as the Giver), squeeze everything possible from their characters. These aren’t outstanding performances, yet I can’t help but feel that in the hands of inexperienced actors, they would have been simply dreadful. The characters are so illogical that when Asher (Cameron Monaghan), devoid of emotions, faces the choice between carrying out an order to eliminate his former classmate or betraying and setting him free, he starts to be guided by emotions he’s supposed to lack… Brenton Thwaites, playing Jonas, performs weakly and unnaturally, like the rest of the cast (Katie Holmes, Cameron Monaghan, Odeya Rush), although unlike them, the rest have the excuse of the numbing medication taken by most characters, significantly limiting their acting tools.

The memories transmitted to the Receiver by the Giver delve into kitsch. If the creators want to show positive emotions, they resort to puppies; if negative, to war and poaching. The scene where the Giver sends the Receiver on a journey to the Barrier and tries to uplift him by showing bungee jumping and world revolutions verges on the ludicrous.

On the plus side, Ross Emery’s cinematography wonderfully captures the emotions of the main character, playing with black, white, and colors, intermingling and replacing each other on the screen. The impressionistic frames are memorable, yet ultimately unsatisfying.

After finishing the film, there’s a sense that The Giver is a beautifully wrapped box with an expensive ribbon, but inside… it’s empty. It’s a spectacle cinema with a purely pretextual plot, initially enticing and somewhat hypnotic, which eventually recedes to reveal the film’s true nature – a tacky and melodramatic story in the series of “form over substance.”

Written by Milosz Drewniak



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