At the Movies with Alan Gekko: The Giver “2014”

MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Sci-Fi/ Stars: Jeff Bridges, Brenton Thwaites, Odeya Rush, Katie Holmes, Meryl Streep, Alexander Skarsgård, Cameron Monaghan, Taylor Swift, Emma Tremblay/ Runtime: 97 minutes

I feel it safe to start this review off by waxing a little bit philosophical dear reader. We all have heard the phrase at one time or another in our lives that “those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” Indeed it is something that is as true now as it was the day it was first uttered, but I would like to ask: what does this say then about people who decide to just forget about everything that came before altogether? Also since the concept of history is one which is molded by both mankind’s positives and negatives, would it still be worth anything assuming man found a way to take weakness out of the puzzle? Yet I guess ultimately the biggest question however would have to be: can the wires inside a person be rewired for their benefit or will the basic and inherent emotions still find a way to exist and come out and play in the world around us? The reason I ask these questions dear reader is because today’s movie The Giver, which is based on a highly regarded YA novel of the same name by Lois Lowry, is a movie that transports you into a world where anything that is either negative, or could either be interpreted or lead eventually to something negative has been completely removed from society and where mankind’s emotions and desire has been taken away and replaced by a hive-like mind to accomplish more so “for the greater good” rather than one’s self. Yet even though it is filled to the brim with these quite complex concepts as well as head-scratching metaphors, the film still does decent enough work in bringing the narrative to life, but at the same time, it isn’t quite able to effectively showcase this deeper material with both the preciseness and the refinement it warrants. Rather the film chooses to leave it up to the viewer to unwrap everything and figure things out for themselves thus resulting in a film that is more of a leaping off point and less the say-all, end-all on a truly distinct yet horrific, when you stop and think about it, look at A possible future as well as an optimistic in-depth look at how man is best when he is allowed to organically overcome his worst possible behaviors.

The plot is as follows: The Giver takes place in a world not that dissimilar from our own, but is one where we see that, in the aftermath of some horrific calamity, mankind has managed to rebuild their communities only they have done something different this time. This time the communities are populated with people who have had their memories of what came before annihilated, history is never taught to them, and where being an individual is no longer possible in the grand scheme of things. Suffice it to say then that this new order to man is one which rests on a foundation of rules stricter than any dress code in a school, language use that is more proper than any royal could hope to achieve, where your clothes are delegated to you, and you are assigned a role in the community rather than going through hundreds of job applications and finding your own way in life. Also you cannot lie, you cannot be popular, you can’t win or lose, and ultimately there is nothing to be found which could get you, other people, or just the community in general hurt in any way. We soon see that our guide through this topsy-turvy world is a young man named Jonas, and up to a point his life has been one that is utterly indistinguishable from everyone else. That all soon changes however when he is delegated to serve as an “understudy” of sorts to a man known as the Receiver of Memory, but informally goes by “The Giver”. This is a man who is very unique for you see dear reader, he is the only person in this world who is not only permitted to break any of the rules that he desires, but is also allowed to keep both a knowledge and comprehension of what came before. Thus we see that as Jonas learns more and more from “The Giver” that he also begins to see that there is so much more to the world beyond what he has ever been told, and soon he finds himself torn between keeping all of this inside, or going against the heads of the community and finding a way to give back to the world what had been taken from it so long ago….

Now it is worth noting that this film manages to play out like an odd mixture of, all things, Elysium, Logan’s Run, The Island, and Pleasantville. By that I mean this film showcases a color-void, retro-futuristic 1950s-style black and white exterior complete with a narrative that concentrates on a world split from those ingredients it doesn’t want and revolves around a ceremony where are people are “killed” in that, although not physically killed, they are pushed away from any hope to have any self-determination and being able to choose their own way in life. Indeed is there a difference between death of the body and death of the spirit? Well to be honest not really, but at least in this film’s eyes there is a long-shot chance that an individual will wake up one day and see that life as a brainwashed zombie for lack of a better word is not living in the slightest. Instead it is functioning to serve something other than your own satisfaction from a pathos perspective as well as being denied the chance to better yourself. To that end, even though the film, typically, makes its way through some of the most cliché examples of what counts as either ecstasy or agony possible, the greater idea still is able to stand tall in its devoted tenacity to show us the vast difference between comprehending and emoting, viewing and immersing, and having an appreciation for life rather than just going through it as someone else instructs us to.

To that end, one thing that really puzzles me about this film is just how in the world is this “brave new world” able to tolerate the titular character to begin with. I ask this because we see throughout the narrative, this character, and eventually Jonas too, manage to prove to be nothing, but an irritating blemish that society just wants to rub out. I mean it would like be if the United States banned guns, but a single individual was able to keep their gun and have the authority to use it whenever whilst everyone else has to be ignorant of such a thing’s very existence. Thus should a, for all intents and purposes, “historian” really be a necessary position in this world if everyone not only follows the rules to a t, but also has had, courtesy of pharmaceuticals and ingenious strategizing, all their negativity wiped out? I mean to me that just implies that, no matter how hard those at the top may try, they cannot fully 100% control humanity. Also by wishing to have the historian counsel them, but also wishing to not be able to comprehend what came before, I feel that this also is a subtle implication that history is still, to some degree mind you, important in this world no matter what the leaders may say to the contrary. I mean I’m pretty sure all of this was explained a whole lot better in the actual book, but in at least this cinematic adaptation I feel that the best idea for this world to actively consider in order to keep their desired state of equilibrium would be to “release” the giver, to use some of their jargon, and then there will be no ties to the past whatsoever thus ensuring that no one could ever go off their predetermined path again. Indeed these are quite intriguing concepts to really ponder about this film and it really is a shame that the movie chooses not to go into them more and instead picks and chooses what things are needed to move along the narrative as well as a smattering of action beats in the film’s third act.

Thus as you may have sadly been able to discern by now, this is a film that is much better thought about than viewed and more of a jumping off point for some truly thought-provoking material than the carrier of some rich concepts and other material. Indeed this is a film that aims to capture your attention from the inside out as it may begin with a pathos-directed and actually to a degree pitch-black story about the lack of individuality in a world that forces one to conform only to have things inexplicably change and the film become an action movie by the time the credits roll. As far as the riveting concepts this film plays with, the film severely constricts them with a runtime of just shy, not including credits, of an hour and a half thus not really giving the film the opportunity to dig into those themes as much as it would like. Rather this film chooses to just work with the tip of the iceberg and as such seems more at ease with telling us a tale rather than building one, to show us the characters that make up this world rather than to make them three-dimensional, and to showcase this world rather than define it in a way that would be meaningful. Indeed neither the film’s script nor the actors who are playing in this particular sandbox truly give off the vibe that they live in the world of the film and, even if that was what was intended, there is still a quite apparent superficiality to everything. That and, if we’re being honest, how Jonas sees the world and his sense of morals changes way too fast for us to really accept even when taking into account several key ingredients. Indeed it really is a wonder that an individual who has been discovered with these truly undesired gifts would be put in charge of the singular item that could bring this house of cards down. As for the performances in the film, they are fine, no more and no less, though they do lack the subtlety necessary for this particular narrative. As such, and because the screenplay is wafer thin and the narrative too general, we see that even this film’s powerhouse talents in the form of Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges are left stumbling around and trying to find a way to make it through this film and still give somewhat of a decent performance.

All in all are the joys to be found in your life worth all the pain and tragedy that is also part of the package? Is life worth even living if it has been changed, for all intents and purposes, to be straight-up bland with no variety to the proceedings and virtually no free will to do what you wish? Above all though how is “life” even worth proceeding with beyond the most basic dictionary definition of the word when said life takes place in a black hole where your right to choose has been negated and the idea of turmoil has been pulled from the equation like a root canal? Indeed with all of these concepts constantly floating around your head whilst watching this, I feel that perhaps the main idea behind The Giver really ought to have been another just as regarded wise old saying that goes something like “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.” Indeed I feel that this concept is one which is able to be 100% genuine in the world of this film. A world where the idea of conforming has been politely forced onto the population and everyone’s sense of individuality is denied from the moment they are born to their final breaths in this world. Yet even though the story presented to us in The Giver is one that is quite intriguing, it is one that is also sadly only decently regaled to us in its film adaptation. Yet it may be too constricted, and too cliché in certain areas, but is also quite thought-provoking and a little bit better when thinking about it later on rather than when you are sitting down and watching it. As such, the film is worth at least a watch, but if you are one who is definitely interested in the questions this subject matter raises and the themes it takes a look at, then you should most definitely read the book before anything else. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Giver “2014” a solid 3 out of 5.