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The Giver – A Movie Review

By on Sep 10, 2014 in Movie Reviews, Reviews | 4 comments

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The Giver starring Jeff Bridges in the title role, Meryl Streep as the Chief Elder, Brenton Thwaites as Jonas and the beautiful Odeya Rush, a newcomer from Israel, as Fiona is a movie designed for young adults. It is about an imagined community where there is no color, no crime, no hate, no sex and no discord of any kind. Meryl Streep, who appears only as a hologram, along with the Community of Elders, makes the rules and sees that they are enforced. The people take drugs to keep them obedient and are always on camera. They have no memory of anything else and no sexuality. Since history is repetitive someone has to remember or they will continue to make the same mistakes over and over and the character of the Giver played by Jeff Bridges fulfills that role. Only he can remember the past and he is getting old. He must pass on his knowledge. Jonas is special. He can see colors where the rest of the community can see only in black and white. He is chosen as the Receiver.

The plot is not entirely logical. It’s science fiction and it’s up to me to suspend my disbelief enough to enjoy it and I did enjoy it if the copious amount of tears I shed is any indication. When Jonas, the Receiver, learns about death, pain, killing and war, he is horrified but he also learns about love, music, dance and colors. To illustrate the color blindness of this artificial society, the movie is shown in black and white until it is seen through the eyes of Jonas, the only citizen who has the ability to see in color. At this point the trees become green and Fiona’s eyes become a remarkable blue.

I didn’t get this movie right away. I didn’t even start to consider it until some of the perceptive people in my movie group started to discuss it. They had read the Newberry Award winning book that inspired it. I hadn’t. They started me thinking and the more I thought the more there seemed to be in it. Then I read that Jeff Bridges had bought the movie rights twenty years ago hoping his father, Lloyd Bridges, would play the leading role but that was not to be. Critics have thought that smaltzy but it’s not, not in my book; it’s sweet. For years he couldn’t interest the studios in the movie but then with the recent popularity of the dystopian[1] movies, Hunger Games, Divergent and The Maze Runner, the project became plausible. The Giver won’t be anywhere near as wildly popular as Hunger Games. It’s not as exciting and it’s not dystopian. It’s more like a dystopia blanched of color, competition, emotion, and most of all violence.

Instead of his father, Lloyd, who died in 1998 at the age of eighty-five, Jeff Bridges at the age of sixty-four plays the title role but Lloyd Bridges isn’t the only ghostly father figure hovering above the cameras. Amy Lowry wrote the original novel in 1993 following the death of her own father.

          Lowry was inspired to write The Giver after a visit to her aging father, who had lost most of his long-term memory. She realized that without memory, there is no pain—if you cannot remember physical pain, you might as well not have experienced it, and you cannot be plagued by regret or grief if you cannot remember the events that hurt you.
          The Committee of Elders does recognize the practical applications of memory—if you do not remember your errors, you may repeat them—so it designates a Receiver to remember history for the community. But as Jonas undergoes his training, he learns that just as there is no pain without memory, there is also no true happiness.The novel encourages readers to celebrate differences instead of disparaging them or pretending they do not exist.
          Jonas is one of the few people in the community who can see color. Jonas’s perception of color symbolizes his perception of the complicated emotions and sensations that other people cannot perceive: he sees life differently from the rest of the community.[2]           

The book, The Giver, is a mainstay for the Young Adult age group and has been on school reading lists for years. There have been complaints from parents that it is too dark and therefore unsuited for the intended age group but To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison and Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain have also shared the banned status. These are books that make us think. The Giver makes us think. That’s what is great about it.

This is a coming of age story. In the movie Jonas is sixteen, in the book twelve. They made him older to appeal to wider audience of young people. Understandable but I would prefer him to be twelve. Twelve is the age when a child begins to look outside the family, the age when the adoration previously poured onto parents begins to pass through the sharp edge of newly developing individual judgment and parents are often found wanting. The surprise of this often unhinges a child and it is not until the wisdom of years and the child’s own lapses from grace make him less of a judge and more understanding and forgiving. This is what the movie is about, about jumping off the ledge of familial comfort and the resultant disillusionment. This combined with sexual development makes it one hell of an age to live through. Anything that helps is good and, in my opinion, this movie will help.

Our hero, Jonas, loves and admires his father. His family is caring for Gabriel, a baby who isn’t thriving. One day the baby is gone and his father announces that Gabe is scheduled for release or in other words, for euthanasia. Jonas thinks it is murder. His father goes about this in a matter of fact way but Jonas, having the advantages of his specialized education and abilities, is horrified. He decides to rescue Gabe and asks his childhood friend, Fiona, played by Odeya Rush, for help. She creates a diversion and Jonas escapes with Gabriel in his arms. They send drones (airplanes) after him. The Chief Elder is frantic that he not reach the outer edge which is somewhere near a certain rock structure. Jonas falls with Gabriel into a raging river and is presumed dead. They are not.

I’m not much of a biblical scholar but I think the character Jonas is related to Jonah who God ordered to save the city of Nineveh from its evil ways. After some travail, Jonah ended up in a whale where he repented and agreed to do God’s will. In the movie, the Giver lives in a cave like building on the edge of a mountain. I think the building represents the whale and the old man, the Giver, represents God, God who knows all. Books line the walls of cave. They are the ribs, the cinematographic interpretation of the interior of a whale. Jonas is an archetypical hero and a seeker of truth. At one point in his hallucinogenic education, he mounts a sled and learns the heady joy of freedom. In the end of the movie he has to dig out the sled and has difficulty getting it going but as he perseveres, the ride becomes more exhilarating and he wooshes down the mountain tumbling into the snow at the end. In the Bible, the whale vomits Jonah onto land and Jonah fulfills his karma. He does what God asked him to do. He saves Nineveh. There is no neat wrap-up at the end of this movie. We the audience are left wondering. Will he go back to the community and teach it what he has learned? Will he go into the new world? Will he die of cold and starvation? My take is that he will do his job, the job the Giver or God has asked him to do. He will save the artificial community that lacks even the basis of what God wants us to do, that is to decide for ourselves what is right and wrong, in other words, to exercise free will.


[1] Dystopia noun an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one.



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  1. Cathy

    September 11, 2014

    Post a Reply

    Nice review! I want to get Brose that book, I hear it’s excellent

    • hannahpowers

      September 11, 2014

      Post a Reply

      I think he would like it. I was thinking about him when I wrote it.

  2. John

    September 11, 2014

    Post a Reply


    Very nice review. You put in a lot of research and analysis. I don’t think I can accept the underlying premises of no pain and no memory. Anyone who cannot feel pain will not live very long. He won’t pull his hand out of the fire. He won’t know to spit out those nettles he put in his mouth, etc. If he has no memory he won’t know where his house is or what his name is. His survival depends on the cues that pain provides. Even without “emotional pain” there is no basis for human civilization. We would all be merely animals living in the anarchy of natural selection, where might makes right and violence is the answer to every question.

    Later, John.

    • hannahpowers

      September 11, 2014

      Post a Reply

      Thank you for your considered response. You are right that without physical and emotional pain there would be no basis for civilization. Without at least a historical experience of pain there can be no pleasure, an uncomfortable conundrum. I guess that was the reason for the name, The Giver. Although the Giver gave the boy pain, he also gave him joy and when push came to shove, the boy chose to experience a wider range of emotion rather than remain in the safe but staid community. Humans leap where angels fear to tread. Thanks for reading.

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