“The Giver” defies dystopian trends

By Managing Editor

A world defined by strict rules and no emotion is created in director Phillip Noyce’s latest film “The Giver,” which premiered Aug. 15.

Based on Lois Lowry’s lauded 1993 novel by the same name, “The Giver” is the most recent novel-to-film adaptation that explores life in a dystopian society. While lacking the action-packed scenes and adrenaline-fueled plots of “Divergent” and “The Hunger Games,” “The Giver” wields a distinct simplicity that sets it apart from the increasingly common post-apocalyptic story.

The film follows Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) as he matures in an isolated community that boasts no suffering or war. Leaders, designated as Elders, control the society and promote living a life free from emotion. The community entrusts the collective memory of the past to one Elder, The Receiver of Memories, a person responsible for keeping a record of life before the community.

Jonas is selected as the next Receiver of Memories and encounters The Giver (Jeff Bridges), the outgoing Receiver of Memories. The Giver imbues Jonas with the ability to see color and experience emotion by giving him access to glimpses of life before the Elders created the emotionless world that Jonas has come to know.

Once Jonas comes to terms with his newfound knowledge, he becomes distraught and tries to show Fiona (Odeya Rush), his childhood friend, what he has learned. Once he realizes the community is so heavily controlled, he must choose to either leave his community and restore emotion to his fellow peers or hide his emotions and his love for Fiona.

Despite the combined star power of renowned actors Meryl Streep, Jeff Bridges and Katie Holmes, their supporting role performances take a backseat to newcomers Rush and Thwaites.

Thwaites–the real star of the film–excels at playing the curious and sharp Jonas, while managing to keep the character’s young charisma evident. Despite being a relatively young actor, his depth and ability are apparent throughout the film. Rush shines in her role as she delivers a believable performance as someone struggling with her morals and emotions. Streep, Holmes, Bridges and Skarsgard’s effortlessly play characters whose existences are drab and short-lived. However, Streep is especially chilling in her role as an Elder.   

The adaptation provides a more futuristic feel than the book. However, some scenes are obviously shot with the text in mind. When Jonas begins his training, he receives an image of sliding down a snowy hill on a sled where he finds a log cabin at the bottom of the hill and Jonas becomes aware of his senses as he feels the snow fall on his skin. Noyce does an amazing job of projecting the emotion the scene is intended to invoke.

Noyce’s use of black and white cinematography highlights the uniformity of the community and accurately illustrates the shift in tone as Jonas becomes aware of the faults in his society. Jonas is able to see beyond the monotony of fellow citizens and notices the individuality and thought process of his community and peers, and the transition is emphasized by the shift to color from numb society, which strengthens Thwaites’s portrayal of Jonas as he experiences an excitement and eagerness to learn what other luxuries or troubles are being kept from him.

“The Giver’s” setting and storyline prompts an anticipation of the characters’ responsiveness to a completely different world for the audience, which is compelling. The ending of the film leaves the audience with one question: “If you can’t feel, what is the point?”

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