Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) has grown up in an isolated society which values ‘Sameness’, a civilisation where children are designed before birth, are reared by an allocated family, and are given their future place in society by a panel of Elders. Thanks to a belief in the system and daily injected medication, everyone is happy. There are no wars, no pain, and no lies. There is also no colour (literally), no passion, and no creative expression. Any tiny exaggeration is reprimanded with a simple reminder of “Precision of Language”, and outdoor speaker phones will remind civilians of curfew, bedtime and the rules against physical touch in public places.
Upon reaching the age of receiving his future role in society, Jonas is singled out as the next “Receiver of Memories,” and must report to a reclusive older man who will pass on the memories and emotions that have been hidden. Slowly, during his first experiences of war, death, seasonal climate change and love, he realises the false nature of the system, and eventually faces choices that challenge the boundary of his beliefs.
Readers of Lowry’s novel will notice that Jonas has been made older in the film (he is only twelve in the book) and the feelings that arise for his childhood friend Fiona are built up into a romance onscreen. Putting aside the changes that always occur in adaptations between page and camera, The Giver puts this perfect society to film really well. The dystopian concepts and technologically advanced aspects (such as uniform ceremonies and communication holograms) appear more visually sci-fi than expected, but this not detract from the overall message.
Jeff Bridges, who also co-produces the film, plays the Giver of Memories as though the role was written for him. The only character with any honest understanding of pain and suffering, his motives play against those of the Chief Elder (Meryl Streep) and somehow complement her sincere investment in the controlled society. Australian Brenton Thwaites (Home and Away, SLiDE and Maleficent) plays Jonas, the young Receiver of Memories, with a sense of youthful discovery and naivety that complements the character. The film also features Katie Holmes as Jonas’ Mother, Alexander Skarsgård as his Father, and a three-minute appearance from Taylor Swift as the previous young Receiver.
Although the brilliance of the film’s concept is due to its inspiration -Lois Lowry’s classic novel- Phillip Noyce (director of Rabbit Proof Fence) steers The Giver through the Young Adult fantasy genre with constant sincerity, and delivers a watchable adaptation that is worth seeing for both readers and strangers of the book.
The Giver is released in cinemas across Australia today.
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