Movie Review: 'The Giver' provides deep message for all ages

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Now’s the time to thank your sixth-grade English teacher for putting Lois Lowry’s “The Giver” on the required reading list.

Twenty years after the book’s first publication, the Newbery Medal award-winning novel has been adapted for the silver screen but not without its fair share of challenges — the movie’s been in the making for 18 years. 

The story takes place in Sameness, a utopian world where everything is, well, the same. It’s a world without color and emotion, where the word “love” is considered archaic and meaningless and snow doesn’t exist because it’s unpredictable. Everything is decided by the Elders and the Chief Elder (an especially stoic and powerful Meryl Streep). When 12-year-old Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) is assigned to be the Receiver of Memories, the story gains traction and picks up speed. 

'The Giver' movie trailer

In a seemingly perfect community, without war, pain, suffering, differences or choice, a young boy is chosen to learn from an elderly man about the true pain and pleasure of the "real" world.

Mentored by The Giver (Jeff Bridges), Jonas learns to guard all distant memories of the world and, as a result, experience real memories — first euphoric and colorful memories, and then memories of pain, war and suffering. Jonas begins to see his society as dystopic and grasps the importance of these rich memories, both good and bad. 

He realizes he can unleash the memories into the community by escaping into Elsewhere — a mysterious land that exists beyond the boundaries of Sameness, and is forced to make a decision: Is it better to live in a perfect world without love or loss or one with predictable satisfaction? 

The film combines a competent cast of new talent and old pros. Although the younger actors are impressive and capture the youth of the film, the story is kept afloat and enjoyable by established and iconic faces. Ms. Streep is perfect as the even-keeled, no-nonsense utopian leader, and Jeff Bridges shines as the scruffy, recluse Giver. Katie Holmes plays a truly convincing brainwashed mother of Jonas and his sister, Lily (Emma Tremblay). Playing the previous Receiver, musician Taylor Swift makes an appearance on the big screen with a quick piano duet with Mr. Bridges, but it’s nothing especially noteworthy. 

‘The Giver’

Starring: Brenton Thwaites, Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges.

Rating: PG-13 for a mature thematic image and some sci-fi action/violence. 

Although the film deviates from the novel at times, this question reverberates throughout the 94-minute film, truly forcing the audience to re-evaluate morals and very important questions. It’s no wonder Ms. Lowry’s novel has been controversial. Twenty years later, the book’s message remains just as important, and the 18-year wait for the film is well worth it. It’s a film with such deep and meaningful moral questions, it’s easy to forget the book is targeted toward young adults and children. For this reason, the film sometimes doesn’t go into as much depth or detail as it could, which, at times, is a disappointment. Still, it’s a meaningful film that can be enjoyed by entire families and will have audience members leaving the theater with a greater appreciation of the world and color around them.

Kate Mishkin: or 412-263-1352.

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