IT’S A sweet, sweet irony to have Katie Holmes star as a cold-as-ice mother and Director of Justice in Lois Lowry’s version of an ordered, utopian society. Among the many professions the Elders assign its young here is being a ‘birthmother’. How the ex-Scientologist would have loved turning the knife in!
Irony is otherwise much in need in this tale about an Orwellian world, which the young adults it is meant for are more likely to identify with The Hunger Games or, to be more precise, Divergent. The Giver by Lowry actually predates both the latter bestsellers by more than a decade.
After ‘The Ruin’, there are ‘Communities’, led by ‘Elders’, who supervise every action of the inhabitants through cameras and speakers. In the film, it is also done through holograms wherein Chief Elder (Streep, in creeping grey-black streaked hair) materialises in homes when matters require her personal attention, which is often.
The ‘Rules’ dictate babies who have passed the test of geneticists (a departure from the book again) will be named by Elders and placed within ‘family units’, and will thereon get their new clothes, bicycles and jobs as per set order. The ‘Rules’ also dictate that all children get just a first name, and that adults be known only by what they do, or as ‘Father’ and ‘Mother’.
The idea is to impose ‘Sameness’ in the world, to rule out differences and hence the feelings of hate, envy, jealousy born from it. That translates into a colourless, music-less world. ‘Sameness’ also stretches to the landscape, which translates into no changes in climate, so no snow and, apparently, no Christmas. As it is explained, man has brought this upon himself by his constant wars and his tinkering with the climate, as well as increasing food requirement that can only be met if conditions were conducive to farming.
The situation, so to speak, is ripe for the changing.
That task falls upon the strange shoulders of Thwaites (as Jonas), who hasn’t done anything impressive so far for such a career jump. The Giver is a much-talked-about award-winning book that went from being universally liked to controversial when Americans hyper sensitive about such matters stumbled upon its few scenes of child cruelty.
Jonas is the moral centre as it is he who is chosen to be the new ‘Receiver of Memory’ of his community. As part of that job, he is transferred memories of the past by the old and tortured existing Receiver (a suitably mildly-sozzled and solemnly-robed Bridges). Since Jonas is the new Receiver, the latter now calls himself the Giver. It should be evident though why Lowry went with the title The Giver.
As ‘Receiver of Memory’, Jonas is given memories of the world as it used to be, and he starts questioning the new order. What drives him on most are fears regarding the fate of a weak baby, Gabriel, his family has been ‘nurturing’, and his friend Fiona (Rush), who continued…