The Giver

The Giver

2014, PG-13, 94 min. Directed by Phillip Noyce. Starring Jeff Bridges, Brenton Thwaites, Meryl Streep, Alexander Skarsgård, Katie Holmes, Odeya Rush, Cameron Monaghan, Emma Tremblay, Taylor Swift.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Aug. 15, 2014

Teenage dystopias may seem to be all the rage in movies these days, as demonstrated by the popularity of the Twilight and Hunger Games franchises as well as the smaller successes of other films like Divergent and Never Let Me Go. The Giver certainly fits into the trend, but it’s no Johnny-come-lately to the party. Lois Lowry’s 1993 Newbery Medal-winning novel The Giver is a modern young-adult classic that’s been celebrated as well as reviled. Required reading for some middle-schoolers, Lowry’s novel is also on the banned-books list in certain school districts. Co-producer Jeff Bridges has been trying to mount a film adaptation for many years but claims to have been met with stubborn opposition until recently. To give an idea of how long Bridges has been at it, the original plan was for his father Lloyd Bridges to play the part of the Giver of memories – the role that the Dude now plays himself.

The Giver’s dystopic society is a manmade invention born of good intentions. Following the unexplained Ruin, humanity has reorganized itself into colorless Communities, where contentment is achieved by means of a bland but aesthetically pleasing conformity and daily injections of an emotion squelcher. All memory of the past has been erased, save for one soul chosen by the all-seeing Council of Elders to be the Giver. As the movie opens, Jonas (Thwaites) has been selected to be the new Receiver of memories. Although the Community (which is what its residents call the place where they live) has no knowledge of civilization’s accomplishments and history, they also have no knowledge of hatred, war, and conflict.

The early portion of The Giver is filmed in high-contrast black and white. Gradually, as Jonas receives more knowledge and stops taking his daily injection, muted colors begin to enter the frame, somewhat in the manner of Pleasantville. Even before the Elders selected him, Jonas suspected he was somewhat different from the others. One hint is that he suddenly sees the hair color of his inamorata Fiona (Rush), not to mention that he has what the Community calls “stirrings” for another. Jonas’ training consists of some kind of Vulcan mind meld with the Giver, during which the two race through history with seconds-long flash cuts to random imagery and experiences. The film begins to get a bit lost as the story develops and pushes toward a wobbly climax and conclusion. And what to make of that sled, which is the first bit of knowledge Jonas receives. Rosebud, anyone?

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Phillip Noyce Films
Salt reboots the cinematic cloaks and daggers of the Cold War espionage thriller.

Marc Savlov, July 23, 2010

Catch a Fire
Phillip Noyce explores the havoc and repercussions caused by white interlopers toward indigenous peoples in this straightforward account of real-life black South African activist Patrick Chamusso and the white Boer police agent, who hunts him.

Marc Savlov, Oct. 27, 2006

More by Marjorie Baumgarten
SXSW Film Review: The Greatest Hits
SXSW Film Review: The Greatest Hits
Love means never having to flip to the B side

March 16, 2024

SXSW Film Review: The Uninvited
SXSW Film Review: The Uninvited
A Hollywood garden party unearths certain truths

March 12, 2024


The Giver, Phillip Noyce, Jeff Bridges, Brenton Thwaites, Meryl Streep, Alexander Skarsgård, Katie Holmes, Odeya Rush, Cameron Monaghan, Emma Tremblay, Taylor Swift

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle