The Giver, written by Lois Lowery, was first published in 1993. In 1994, it won the Newberry Medal – one of the most prestigious awards for children’s literature in the United States. To date it has sold over ten million copies. The Giver is actually the first in a series of four books, the next three being Gathering Blue, published in the year 2000, Messenger published in 2004, and Son published in 2012.
The book follows the personal struggles of Jonas, a 12-year old boy living in a Dystopian society masquerading as an Utopian one, where humans have managed to eliminate strife and pain by converting to “Sameness,” a plan that has removed all intense emotions and any depth of feeling from their lives.
In the story Jonas is selected to inherit the position of Receiver of Memory, the person who acts as a human repository for all the memories from the time before Sameness was put into practice, just in case these memories are needed to help the community leaders make decisions. The novel covers his training, which is provided by the previous receiver and his realization that the system he grew up in is fundamentally flawed.
Because the book was so popular, it is not surprising that it caught the attention of Jeff Bridges, who has apparently been trying to make a film based on the book since the 1990s. His original idea was to have his father Lloyd (Sea Hunt, High Noon, Airplane) play the older Receiver, but Lloyd Bridges died in 1998 and the project remained in limbo until the film actually started shooting in Capetown and Johannesburg, South Africa in 2013. Filming was completed on February 13, 2014 in Utah, USA.
The movie stars Jeff Bridges as the Receiver (The Big Lebowski, True Grit, R.I.P.D., Tron Legacy). Brenton Thwaites (Maleficent, Oculus) plays Jonas and Meryl Streep (August: Osage County, Hope Springs) plays the chief elder and antagonist. All do quite good jobs playing their respective roles, but I still find this movie quite perplexing. As a novel The Giver was a quiet, reflective piece of literature. The world that Lois Lowery depicted was different enough from our own that readers knew they were in the future, but the setting was low tech enough that they were still able to identify with it. They could imagine the possible evolution of our world into Jonas'.
The people behind the development of this movie seem to have wanted to turn the story into a glitzy Hollywood blockbuster, complete with fascistic police raids and futuristic flying machines. I can't help but feel that if the powers that be wanted to translate this story properly into film they would have done it on a much lower budget and they would have chosen an Indie director like Paul Thomas Anderson (The Master, Boogey Nights, Magnolia, And There Will Be Blood). Whoever thought that it was a good idea to give the film adaptation to Phillip Noyce, a director who makes movies like Salt, I'll never know. He has lost the thoughtful introspection that was so much a part of the original book, and in its place you have frenetic action.
If you are a fan of Jeff Bridges, see this film. He is very good. If you aren't, give it a miss and read the book.