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Middle school is a great time to breed a little affinity for anarchy, and it sure seems as if the advanced English classes (nerd) I took during my junior high years possessed a certain bent, one aimed at getting our little minds to righteously reject the status quo – at least, as it applied to the fiction books we read. There was “Animal Farm” and “Brave New World” and “Anthem” and “Fahrenheit 451” and “1984.” And there was also Lois Lowry’s “The Giver,” which was perhaps the most age-appropriate of all the dystopian novels we read back then – hey, it’s about kids! – and the one now set for a big screen telling (albeit one that somehow stars Taylor Swift and takes some big liberties with the various ages of its youngest characters).
Lowry’s novel is excellent (and it’s one hell of a tearjerker) and just finely wrought enough to appeal to both kids and adults alike. The book (and now, Phillip Noyce’s film) focuses on a future society that bills itself as utopian, but soon reveals itself to be, well, totally not. The world inhabited by the young Jonas (aged up from eleven-years-old in the book, so that Brenton Thwaites can play him) has been changed to embrace “Sameness,” which removes all emotion, choice and richness from people’s lives in order to keep them in line and, on the surface, at peace. Great plan, right? Ha! Although you might vaguely remember these rules from your own readings – hmm, something about twins? – it’s time to beef up before The Giver hits theaters.
The central character of The Giver, Jonas, works as our eyes and ears in the “Communities.” There are plenty of rules that guide the society, and most of them are actually pretty horrifying (including baby-killing), but it takes Jonas some time to figure that all out. One of the Communities’ biggest rules dictates that “The Elders” of the society get to decide what job everyone has (also, they get to decide who they marry and which children they raise), which is how Jonas gets saddled with becoming “The Reciever of Memory.” Turns out, all those memories and emotions from before aren’t gone, they’re just hanging out in one person’s mind, and now Jonas to be that person. You probably remember that, but do you remember all of this?
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Katie Holmes and Alexander Skarsgard will play Jonas’ parents in the film – character names: “Jonas’s Mother” and “Jonas’s Father” – but that doesn’t mean they’re actually related. In the world of The Giver, people are assigned everything, from jobs to mates to children. Jonas’ parents don’t love each other, not because they don’t, but because they can’t. All that emotion has been removed from them (hint: pills!) and they’re simply assigned to live in a family unit. So healthy.
Eligible adults apply to get a compatible spouse, and when they are matched up, they then recieve exactly two children each. The kids come from Birthmothers, whose only assigned job is to have kids. They are raised for the first year of their lives in Nurturing Centers (that’s where Jonas’ dad works) before they are doled out to waiting “family units.” (Oh, and what happens after the kids grow up? The “parents” are sent to live with other “Childless Adults” and then the “House of the Old” until they die.)
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Odeya Rush plays Jonas’ friend Fiona, who apparently has red hair that only Jonas can see after he starts loading up on the memories (which are heavy on the color). She works in the House of the Old and is responsible for Jonas’ first naughty dream – a sign of “The Strirrings.” How do you combat said Stirrings? Why, with a pill!
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As the Receiver before Jonas, Jeff Bridges plays the Giver (ding ding) tasked with passing along all of the memories of the Communities to his new charge. Although “the Giver” isn’t particularly aged, he looks far older than his years, simply because he’s the only person in their entire society who remembers or feels anything of consequence. Speaking of consequences, the Giver has tried this giving thing again – with terrible consequences! – when he attempted to train another young Reciever, Rosemary (played by Swift). A Receiver’s job is unquestionably hard, but it was particulary hard on young Rosemary, who couldn’t take it, and actually asked for “release” (basically, assisted suicide). The Giver couldn’t take it, and it sure looks like we’ll see that in the film by way of Rosemary-heavy memories. Sad face.
The Giver will hit theaters on August 15th.