THE GIVER. Starring: Brenton Thwaites, Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Odeya Rush, Cameron Monaghan, and Alexander Skarsgard. Directed by Phillip Noyce. Rated M (Mature themes and violence). 97 min.
This American film is based on the 1993 novel of the same name by Lois Lowry, and is set in the year 2048 where a seemingly happy, but colourless community, lives in a world where there are no memories of the past. All such memories have been erased.
One of the community is given the position of "Receiver of Memories" and he is trained to do that by "The Giver" who knows everything about the real world that exists "elsewhere". Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) is The Receiver in the film who receives memories of what went before from the last Receiver, who now becomes The Giver (Jeff Bridges).
It is the task of The Receiver to advise the Chief Elder (Meryl Streep) and her Elders wisely about major decisions the community should make. Distressed at what he now knows, and overwhelmed by his emotions and memories (he is exposed to "sights and sounds no words could describe"), Jonas confides in his friend, Fiona (Odeya Rush), and decides that the community should be given their memories back. After running away, Jonas is declared dangerous by the Chief Elder and is pursued by his friend, Asher (Cameron Monaghan), a drone pilot, who is sent by the Chief Elder to eliminate him. Jonas, however, survives because of his friendship with Asher, and, as he passes "the boundary of memories", memories are released back into his community.
This is a futuristic drama about a utopian society that carries the potent messages that conformity and regulation need to be replaced with freedom of knowledge, appreciation of human feeling, and the capacity to choose. The film argues that an Orwellian world of the kind where "differences are not allowed" has to develop the ability to experience genuine feelings, even ones that mix pain and sorrow with joy. Jonas is outraged when he finds out that the Elders use euthanasia to eliminate the elderly and the imperfect, and the protection of life is a value especially reinforced by the film. It is interesting premise that true happiness depends on the ability to experience anger, sorrow and pain together with joy and contentment.
A world that eliminates negative feelings constitutes a vapid existence, and the film argues forcibly that good morality requires feelings about the bad as well as the good. An example of bad in this film is euthanasia where the imperfect and the unwanted are discreetly "released elsewhere" by lethal injection.
This is a challenging movie, with no vulgarity in it at all, that deals with the significant themes of liberty, life and free will, and its moral messages are loud and clear: conformity is a threat to individuality, and oppression means the absence of true feeling and choice. Phillip Noyce's direction ensures that the film's futuristic world is imagined creatively. It is unsettling to see an entire community living life in an identical way, and the look of the sameness is visually compelling. This community lives in a cold world, and the film begins in black and white, because colour is assumed to symbolise vitality. Colour is reserved to brighten up a dreary world, and it seeps into the movie slowly, as Jonas sees "beyond".
To convey its moral messages, however, characters in the movie are drawn flatly, because that is the world created for them and it is the world in which they are meant to live. The movie associates its messages with the romance between an attractive teenage girl and a handsome young receiver. As such, however, it sacrifices the sophistication of its ideas for the appeal of its adventure-romance.
This movie is an allegory film with mythical implications, and it is directed well by its Australian Director (Phillip Noyce). It shows beauty and joy coexisting with cruelty and meanness, and it has all the right messages to educate young adults about ethical and moral concepts. However, there is tension between the maturity and sweep of its ideas and the concreteness of its action-romance, and the film never quite resolves it.
Peter W. Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting. Roadshow Films Released September 11th., 2014