The Giver

April 7, 2017
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The Giver, written by Louis Lowry, has been a classic dystopian novel featured in school reading curriculums nationwide for quite some time now, and its commentary on a society that forgets its own values and what makes us human endures will endure for a long time to come.  That said, I don’t wouldn’t say that many movie critics and cinema fanatics had high hopes for its movie adaptation that came out in 2014.  I say this because people going into watch this movie would have been colored by the precedents set by the other dystopian novel film adaptations debuting around that time (Divergent, Hunger Games).  In those movies, the filmmakers, for the most part, abandoned the social commentaries made by the stories in favor of putting the spotlight on teen romance, heroine empowerment, and gratuitous futuristic violence to appeal to as wide an audience as possible and make the most money.  Thankfully and refreshingly, though, the Giver movie did not fall prey to this trend and is able to keep its message at the center of the film, and the film’s sequences of action and romance are used to further the overall commentary on the nature of the human experience.  For instance, where the filmmakers could have easily turned the relationship between Jonas and Fiona into a teen-crush, superficial love interest in order to appeal to the teen-tween girl segment of America’s viewing population, they instead choose to show the relationship progressing in different, systematic ways as Jonas begins to unlock different aspects of his human nature.  Some of the most truly impactful scenes of the movie are derived from this relationship, one being in the triangle, when Jonas has stopped taking his emotion-suppressing injections and begins to realize the nature of his feelings towards Fiona.  When his profession of love in the form of a kiss on his part is not returned and her face remains stolid and expressionless, the image the viewer receives is one of Jonas kissing a robot: cold, reserved, emotionless.  This is an incredible visual juxtaposition that represents just how far their society has fallen by suppressing the very urges and feelings that make us human, and the movie is making a direct statement that a life without love and a life without emotion is not human life at all.  Another powerful scene that comes from their relationship is towards the end, when Fiona has been arrested by the government and they are holding her in the transparent cell and she repeatedly screams at the justice official ‘I have felt things!’.  Her cries and the desperation, but more importantly the passion, in her voice show the reader the intoxicating power of emotion in a world devoid of it, and the incredibly profound impact that the very act of feeling has on our existence. 


One aspect of the book that I think the movie portrayed incredibly well was the role that color played in the story.  In the novel the citizens of the community see in black and white, and the movie reflects this.  The film starts out primarily in black and white but slowly transitions to color as Jonas begins his training to be the Receiver and more facets of his humanity are unlocked.  The beauty of how the movie portrays Jonas’ journey into color vision, however, is that the colors don’t come all at once, they start small: maybe only a flash of red in Fiona’s hair or a faded shade of brown on a tree trunk.  However, as the story progresses the color seems to seep into the frame out of these individual objects, and the viewer is given the impression that the color itself is a sentient organism, effortlessly enveloping the screen as the plot unfolds.  The movie also makes good use of hue and saturation in the memory of the sailboat that Jonas receives, where the colors are amplified to near extreme levels, and their intensity symbolizes the true value and significance of being able to see the world in the beautiful, aesthetic manner that comes with color.  The movie also uses color in a memory to play a trick on the audience.  In the memory that Jonas receives of being stung by a bee, the memory is shown to the viewer with a typical bumblebee filling the center of the frame and flying in towards where Jonas’ head would be.  Jonas loudly exclaims “Ow!”, and he makes a comment about that being the ‘pain’ that the Giver was always telling him about.  Interesting enough, however, the Giver says that the reason he gave Jonas that memory was not to make him feel pain, but for him to notice some aspect of the bee.  As the Giver asks Jonas what about the bee stood out to him, the viewer will immediately think “yellow and black”, which shows that, even though we were not consciously aware of it, the aspect of the bee that stands out most in our memory is the color of the bee.  This is interesting, because it suggests that the film is trying to make statement about the importance of color in our lives and especially with respect to our memories, implying that without color in their lives these people are not only living a sad, dull life, but one that deprives them of the most characteristic feature of many plants, animals, objects, etc.


Another advantage that the movie has over the novel is that film is an auditory medium as well as a visual one, meaning that they can appeal to the viewer’s emotions through sound, particularly music.  For most of the movie, the filmmakers don’t make use of music in any spectacularly new or different fashion, but there is one scene that stands out in my memory as not only my personal favorite scene of the movie, but also as quite possibly one of the most original and impactful uses of music in a movie that I have ever seen.  The Giver takes Jonas into a lower-level room of his house that the viewer has never seen before, the prominent feature of which is a large baby-grand piano situated in the center of the room.  The Giver tells Jonas that there exists not only the capacity to see beyond, but also to hear beyond.  This is the first time that the viewer is made aware of or even considers the fact that this society does not have music.  Immediately the viewer experiences a sort of instinctive feeling of pity, because we in our modern lives cannot imagine any sort of life worth living that doesn’t involve music.  Then, the Giver begins to play.  Just a few notes at first: soft and repetitive, emotionally priming the viewer to experience and understand what the Giver teaches Jonas.  The music begins to pick up pace and the texture of the song becomes full and passionate as the Giver states, “Just like music, there is something else you can’t see with your eyes. Something loose inside you… emotion”.  The piano music hits the top of its crescendo, and the music is inspiring, beautiful, and harmonious, filling you as the viewer with an intense flood of emotion that is palpable in a very real sense.  “Emotions are very deep, primal, they linger”, the Giver tells us as his fingers swiftly dance across the keyboard.  What the Giver tells Jonas next is one of the most impactful lines of the movie, because it effectively acts as direct address to the viewer.  He tells Jonas to, “Listen to what’s calling from inside”.  As this simple statement is uttered, an overwhelming flood of emotions well up within you, something that you can actually physically feel, as you let the  bold and moving music of the piano wash over you like a tidal wave.  In this final instruction, the Giver is specifically forcing the audience to become conscious of the gut-wrenching, heart-pumping feeling within them and to realize just how powerful emotions are.  He wants to point out that the very nature of our humanity and our existence as human beings is centered in the deep, primal feelings that we call emotion, and that that is what makes life worth living.  As the Giver puts it, “Knowing what something is is not the same as knowing how something feels.”

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