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'The Giver' review: A contemporary classic is given the Hollywood treatment

Jeff Bridges, Odeya Rush, and Brenton Thwaites promote "The Giver."
Photo by Charley Gallay

The Giver


A modern classic since its release and Newbery Medal win, Lois Lowry’s “The Giver” is considered one of the greatest Young Adult novels of all time. Approximately twenty years after its debut, Hollywood has finally adapted the utopian/dystopian award-winner thanks to the success of adaptations like “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent.” Predictably, director Phillip Noyce and his team decided to sensationalize the storytelling by adding more adrenaline and romance, depleting its sincere emotion.

In the future, after some sort of apocalyptic events, one community has chosen to remove emotion, pain, color, music, etc. from its culture to ensure the safety of its people. Only the Receiver of Memory or the Giver hold the memories and wisdom of a past time and live a mostly solitary life. After a disastrous attempt to instill the memories into a new Receiver of Memory, Rosemary (Taylor Swift), twenty years ago, the Elders have cautiously chosen a new receiver: Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), a young man who has the ability to “see beyond,” or see glimpses of color. As Jonas is trained by the Giver (Jeff Bridges), Jonas is appalled by the community’s efficient actions led by their lack of feelings, including those of his mother and father (Katie Holmes and Alexander Skarsgard). Meanwhile, the ever watchful, spying Chief Elder (Meryl Streep) fears that Jonas is being guided down Rosemary’s path by the Giver.

So much artistic license is used to excite the audience that the added events and conflict (dominated by the Chief Elder’s nosing, scenes that do not exist in the book) end up distracting from the ultimate, societal morals of the story. The realization that life needs the good and bad for fulfillment fades as the controlling government overpowers the film’s story. Those that prefer direct translation from book to film with few alterations, a.k.a. purists, will hate some of the changes.

Attempts are made to show the immersion of color as Jonas experiences it, but cinematographer Ross Emery’s extensive experience in dark visuals doesn’t help the black-and-white imagery; his visuals do not balance the contrast of black versus white but rather heightens it. Just because the cinematography is interesting doesn’t mean it’s good.

“The Giver” is a great story but the filmmaker’s manipulations are clearly focused on selling entertainment value with a Hollywood stamp. The changes market to the fans of “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent,” especially with action on par with “Divergent,” but don’t allow for the raw exposure of emotion to be the film’s power as it is in the novel. Those unfamiliar with the book will probably find the film adequate but not great.

Rating for “The Giver:” C-

For more information on this film or to view its trailer, click here.

“The Giver” is still playing at most theatres in Columbus, including Arena Grand and Starplex Cinemas. For showtimes, click here.

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