Monday, September 15, 2014

The Giver

The Giver is based on the Newberry award-winning novel of the same name by Lois Lowry. This book has sold over ten million copies and is required reading for many middle schools. I have not read it, so my comparisons between the book and the movie are based on online summaries and conversations with people who have read it.

The Giver is yet another story set in a dystopian future, but this one is a bit different from The Hunger Games, Divergent, and the rest of the lot. For one, the book at least is aimed at a middle grade audience, not a teen audience. The main characters are 12 in the book, though they are 16 in the movie. A second important point will wait until after general comments.

The main character is Jonas, played by Brenton Thwaites (Prince Phillip in Maleficent). He is serviceable in the role, though not spectacular. He is joined by the now-obligatory mixed gender pair of friends: the relative newcomer Odeya Rush as Fiona, and Cameron Monaghan (Ian Gallagher in Shameless) as Asher. More on them laster as well.

Jonas's family, played by Alexander Skarsgard (Eric in True Blood) and Katie Holmes, also have important parts, but in many ways the most important character other than Jonas is the titular Giver, played by Jeff Bridges. He delivers the best performance of the film, which makes sense - he's Jeff Bridges, he has the best part, and he's apparently been trying to get this movie made for 20 years.

So the acting is good to very good. The movie is also extraordinarily pretty. The cinematography is absolutely lovely, the sets are immaculate, and the effects fit cleanly into their scenes. The strategic use of black-and-white and color, while not original, is very well done, both thematically and technically.

My problems with this movie are nearly entirely with the plot. As mentioned above, the setting is a future dystopia. The plot of the movie follows Jonas as he discovers that his society is not as idyllic as it seems. The problem is that the society actually shown on screen is much closer to utopia than dystopia. Everyone is shown as happy and satisfied. They are being drugged to keep them in this state, but it is not convincingly demonstrated that this lowers their quality of life. I am given to understand that the effects are more pronounced in the book, but in the movie there are several clear instances of characters experiencing human emotions while drugged, principally in the totally unnecessary but still strongly implied love triangle between Jonas, Fiona, and Asher, but also in several other interactions.

In the book, the Elders are strongly controlling, but in the movie they are not menacing at all; the society as actually presented on screen is very orderly, but not iron-fisted. Everyone is assigned a job instead of given the freedom to choose, but no character is shown as unhappy with his or her assignment, either at the time of the ceremony or later. The society does have rather strict population control measures, but these are focused on only in a context in which I fail to be moved.

I suspect that if you are in the religious demographic for which abortion is unacceptable for any reason, then this movie will push all the right buttons for you. I don't have an attachment to a sanctity of life concept, so nothing shown in the movie actually bothered me. As depicted on screen, the Community is a great place, and Jonas and the Giver are not heroes at all for attempting to disrupt everyone's happiness.

I hope the book presents the moral issues much better than the movie, but from what I've seen I sadly doubt it. I found the movie extremely preachy (in a religious as well as moral sense), enough so that it nearly destroyed any enjoyment I found in the art of the filmmaking.

Performance: 3.5/5
Plot: 2/5
Production: 4.5/5
Overall: 2.5/5
Bechdel: Fail
Reverse-Bechdel: Pass
Mako Mori: Fail
What are these?

1. Guardians of the Galaxy
2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
3. X-Men: Days of Future Past
4. Edge of Tomorrow
5. The Fault in Our Stars
6. Lone Survivor
7. The Amazing Spider-Man 2
8. The Wind Rises
9. The Lego Movie
10. Lust For Love
11. The Grand Budapest Hotel
12. Pompeii
13. Hercules
14. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
15. Maleficent
16. I, Frankenstein
17. Monuments Men
18. Knights of Badassdom
19. Divergent
20. Brick Mansions
21. 300: Rise of an Empire
22. Godzilla
23. RoboCop
24. The Giver
25. Winter's Tale
26. Transcendence
27. Noah
28. The Legend of Hercules
29. Need For Speed
30. 3 Days to Kill
31. Lucy
32. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

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