Certain movies and directors challenge viewers’ intellect, daring to take the path less traveled on the cinematic screen in order to make audiences actually have to think. Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” (2010) about hijacking dreams and 2012’s survival challenges in “The Hunger Games” are two thought-provoking success stories. We can now add “The Giver” to the list of films requiring moviegoers to think outside the box and ponder the role of individuals in society.
Based upon Lois Lowry’s 1993 novel by the same name, “The Giver” depicts a utopian world without individual freedoms or personal choice. A society of sameness, minus any differences amongst the populous, is required because we’re told “When people have freedom to choose, they choose wrong”. Absent in the community are the memories of its past and roots of disorder; times marked by anger, death, happiness and love. The community elders’ concerted effort to keep a lid on individualism and defiance results in only one person, The Giver (Jeff Bridges), having complete knowledge of history. When the elders need guidance, it’s The Giver who must provide them with the wisdom, using the memories of the past to sidestep current problems.
Meryl Streep effortlessly plays the shrewd, calculating Chief Elder—a portrayal the record-nominated (18 times) Academy Award winner (won 3) has mastered over her 37-year film career. However, it’s Jeff Bridges’ performance that stands heads and shoulders above all others in this movie. The Oscar winning best actor (2009’s “Crazy Heart”) steals every scene he’s in and single-handedly takes “The Giver” from an interesting look at humans in a petri dish to a hugely successful movie on humanity’s individual liberties.
At only one hour, 40 minutes in duration, “The Giver” missed a golden opportunity to showcase competing emotions in the characters after it had gained momentum from the film’s flawless start. The hasty end voided any chance to sharply delineate the colorless world from the colorful, or to glimpse reactions to newfound freedoms—the ultimate gift from The Giver. Australian director Phillip Noyce, though, deserves credit for sparking discussions on humanity’s role in balancing basic freedoms and individuality with society’s need for conformity and rule following.
“The Giver” is not only about the way things look in society, but the way things are. Both themes are very different and give audiences plenty of food for thought. Jeff Bridges’ performance shines bright and carries the message and film throughout. He guides and teaches a young apprentice (Brenton Thwaites) and moviegoers on how our past impacts our future. “The Giver” makes the case that harmony comes with a very steep price—the loss of individual choice and emotion replaced by sameness and blandness. It’s the delicate balance between the rule of law and individual freedoms that Noyce captures brilliantly in the film—and that’s the greatest gift from “The Giver”.