Synopsis: In the future, the world is black and white and shades of gray only. Things like color and emotion were seen as threatening to order so were eliminated. The government has sanitized everything and decides what profession people go into after they graduate schooling. They receive daily ‘immunizations’ which dull their emotions and make them complacent. They also hold no memories of the time before their genetically engineered existence.
Three friends, Jonas, Fiona, and Asher are worried about what the future holds for them, or at least mildly concerned as “worried” is not in their vocabulary. Asher is to be a drone pilot; Fiona a nurturer in the infant ward where they weigh children to see if they will survive or need to be ‘released,’ and it turns out Jonas, surprise surprise, is the chosen one. Because one person receives the memories of all the past. He goes off to meet Jeff Bridges, ‘The Giver,’ and learn what humanity was really like and decides, despite the horrors of war and hatred, it should be like that again.
The Good: Jeff Bridges! I mean, come on, he’s gold and that voice is perfect for so many movies. He’s had me since Last Unicorn. And Alex Skarsgaard is in this, as is Meryl Streep. Those are names people, NAMES. The use of black and white and color is great. The story itself, while at this point a bit cliched in film now (to release is to kill and that Soylent Green moment, for example) still kept me engaged. Cameron Monaghan is always wonderfully creepy even when trying not to be. And, even though I knew this whole thing was engineered to make me cry from the very moment I learned Jonas would be learning emotions, I still cried.
The Bad: Maybe not necessarily bad, it depends on your point of view, but remember that magical moment in Pleasantville when the mom feels emotion, that tear streaks down her cheek and washes the gray away to show color? Well take that moment and turn it into an entire hour and a half movie and you have the Giver. Without emotion there is no color and as you learn emotion the world gets a greater variation of color. It’s a movie that wants more complexity but it really just felt like they blew up that part of Pleasantville. And on some level that’s not bad. On others it made it an incredibly predictable film and didn’t add much to the genre of ‘teen in utopia discovers it’s dystopia’ filmography.
The Female: Female as possible romantic partner- check. Female as mother who doesn’t do much – check. Female as oppressive bitch who wants control- check. Not much screen time was given to any woman in the film, the most being the romantic partner (Fiona) he wants to ‘save’ by sharing his gift of emotion. While they try to pretend this isn’t a woman in the fridge ending or motivation for Jonas ‘going beyond the boundary of memory so everyone gets their memory back’ by having him love an infant about to be ‘released,’ – she is still in mortal danger and he ends up saving her in the knick of time so . . nice try movie, but I got your number. She doesn’t rise above the crying and confusion of a woman loved thoroughly by a man who is the hero. The mother, played by Katie Holmes, doesn’t do much but follow orders and then there’s Meryl Streep. She is an ‘elder’ who wants to maintain control of the society so sends troops after Jonas. The main troop being his best friend ‘Asher’ to test control. All she is shown as wanting is control no matter what.
This film would definitely not pass the Bechdel test.
We need a test for non-white people as well, although part of that seems to be built in or half-assedly explained in exposition when Jonas sees ‘people of all skin color’ in the memories he receives. Apparently part of an orderly society is getting rid of everyone who isn’t white and making sure women speak for like, less than 5% of the time.