Friday, 22 August 2014

The Giver (2014)

In the future, there is no racism, sexism, inequality, or discrimination of any kind. Look what we did to eradicate all these evils!

As a “children’s science fiction novel”, The Giver isn’t so much a bowdlerisation and literary compromise of legitimate science fiction (the way the Twilight Saga was to horror fantasy or Harry Potter was to high fantasy) as an intersection between coming-of-age novels and classic dystopian sci-fi.

The role of education in the reproduction of society is a lynchpin in both genres. Confronted with the realisation that ‘society’, ‘history’ (and other big things taken for granted as natural) are both constructed out of selective amnesia and other well-meaning compromises and suppressions of other possibilities and ideologies, the protagonist is at once cognizant of their socialisation into society and thus alienated from society. The role of the protagonist is to rebel against the established order, however futile this enterprise may be, to reclaim ‘true humanity’.

In The Giver, Brenton Thwaites is an average teenager in what appears to be a liberal utopia run on John Lennon’s “Imagine”. He has been chosen by the Elders (headed by Meryl Streep) to be trained as the next Receiver of Memories, a quaint title held by a quaint old man played by Jeff Bridges. As it turns out, the Receiver of Memories is the only person in the community who aside being exempt from all its major rules, also remembers everything that has been suppressed to keep the community what it is.

While the book was a teen-friendly introduction to dystopian sci-fi, Philip Noyce seems to have made this film to impress an older demographic. Like Pleasantville, life in community is in black and white, progressing to sepia and colour as the protagonist loses his social conditioning and gains awareness. Architecturally, every building in the community looks as though it was designed and decorated by the same guy who did the sets in Woody Allen’s Sleeper. One of the key rites of passage in the community mashes references from Logan’s Run and Soylent Green. The snatches of history and memory of humanity that the guru transmits to the protagonist? You might have seen them before in Baraka and Samsara.

Philip Noyce knows how to make a movie look respectable, and to highlight the worthy intellectual and cinematic predecessors of the original novel. The Giver never succumbs to pop culture populism, but I fear it never quite achieves the excitement and originality of the pop culture films it references.

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