The most interesting character in “The Giver,” a film painting a dystopian future that transforms humans into robotic worker bees, is a supporting character known as the Giver himself (Jeff Bridges). In a society that values conformity and sameness above all, the Giver is the repository of all human memories, entrusted to this one soul and none other.
The film, adapted from a young-adult novel written for the 9-14 set by Lois Lowry, focuses on the Giver’s protege, an idealistic 17 year old who is depicted with a robust emotional life by Brenton Thwaites.
Upon graduation from a curriculum beyond our understanding, the chief elder (Meryl Streep sporting long grey hair) thanks the grads for their childhood and assigns each his or her adult role. “Birth mother,” “releaser,” “nurturer,” “drone pilot” and “enforcer” are a few possibilities. In addition to duties, each will be assigned marriages, domiciles and nonbiological children, all arranged by this ultimate nanny government and — surprise, surprise — everyone likes it, secure in the knowledge they are well fed, housed and kept safe from unpleasantness and pain.
No one seems alarmed that anyone who fails to conform or is too old to be productive is “released to elsewhere,” a place that is never defined.
At the graduation ceremony, Jonas learns he is destined for a different life experience. As the new “Receiver” of the Giver’s knowledge, Jonas is allowed a much wider range of behaviors than those allowed to others. He may lie, be rude and ask any question he likes, or so the Giver claims. Jonas is readied to receive his special knowledge by stopping the daily drug injections that prevent emotion and strip the world of color.
Changing from black-and-white film stock to full color exhibits Jonas’s changing perspective, an effective strategy previously used in “The Wizard of Oz.”
As Jonas learns the extreme limits placed upon experience in an effort to achieve a sort of utopia he naturally begins to believe everyone has been robbed of choices and the opportunity to experience feelings. For instance, the emotion of love has been wiped away by the cocktail of injections everyone but the Giver and the Receiver must take.
In Brenton Thwaites and Jeff Bridges, director Phillip Noyce has found a neophyte and elder everyman, each drawing us in despite passages of ham-fisted dialog and lapses in logic. Though it’s obvious where all this is heading, the lesson is to teach us that no security blanket, no matter how benign, is a worthy substitute for freedom of choice, including perhaps the most important of all — the freedom to fail.