The Giver

By Di Golding

Mailed on August 21, 2014


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Dear Jeff Bridges
Actor / Producer

Dear Jeff,

I hate to sound like Kathy Bates in Misery, but I really am your number one fan. Albeit in a less kidnap-you-and-cripple-you-with-a-sledgehammer kind of way. I have a shrine to you in my office featuring many autographed posters, magazine covers, and Big Lebowski action figures. I have your books and CDs. I even have a signed still from Tucker: The Man and His Dream (I doubt even Francis Ford Coppola has one of those).

I've seen all of your movies, including 1970's Yin and Yang of Mr. Go, starring Burgess Meredith as an Asian man. Now that's devotion. Put simply, if I survived an apocalyptic event that wiped out all media, I would be able to single-handedly keep your legacy alive by passing along my extensive knowledge of your peerless film career. But despite how singular I think you are, it would be impossible to properly convey the cosmic complexity of Jeff Bridges. Too many frames would get dropped in the conversion. Like your latest film The Giver, I'm afraid broad strokes just wouldn't do you justice.

You've spent the last eighteen years trying to get Lois Lowry's 1993 young adult novel adapted for the screen. In 1995 you envisioned your dad, Lloyd, in the titular role, and yourself at the helm. But at the time young adult movie franchises were as obscure as your Widelux photographs, and even less sought after. Flash forward a couple of decades later: series like Twilight, Hunger Games, and Divergent are serious box office draws, making your passion project less of a pipe dream. At 63, you're definitely gristful (that's a combo of grizzled and wistful, a term I made up for you after White Squall) enough to take on the role of The Giver, but had you been able to make the film in the 90s, perhaps you wouldn't have had to alter so much of Lowry's beloved novel to compete with current YA actioners. The snarky comparisons will be predictable (and a tad unfair), but not altogether unwarranted.

In a futuristic community, peace, and harmony have been achieved by eliminating colour, emotions, art, music, literature, and even the traditional family structure. This level of conformity is sustained by the daily consumption of a drug to achieve sameness. In this seemingly utopian society, young Jonas has been selected to be The Receiver of Memory, the only individual who has the memories of mankind's turbulent history. He is tasked with advising the Chief Elders on the decisions for the community. He gets these memories from you, the current Receiver, aka The Giver. But as Jonas learns more about humanity's past, the more he believes he must share what he has experienced—both good and bad—regardless of what this will inevitably do to the community.

The film presents an interesting moral conundrum;:would we sacrifice a world full of ugliness and beauty, in all its extremes, to live in a numb paradise where choices are made for us? The film spends a lot of time preparing us for an ethical showdown. The set design, costumes, and art direction reflect a community that radiates exactitude and superiority-- yet there's a distinct underlying chill that hints at a dark heritage. The performances are precise and mannered until it's time for them not to be. The tone is set for a teen-centric think-piece, but then Tommy-Lee Jones comes in with a fake Irish accent and blows it all away (metaphorically speaking). A too-subtle, forced love triangle adds unnecessary conflict, and a superfluous chase scene—complete with e-bikes that too closely mimic the light cycles in Tron—reek of the studio's insecurity towards the source material. Despite the fact that I'm an adult who has never read the book, I still felt like I was being pandered to. It didn't need to be that way.

The reason I fell for you all those years ago, Jeff, was that you weren't like the other heartthrob actors who got all the attention. They were all style and no substance. Venerated critic Pauline Kael called you "the most natural and least self-conscious screen actor that has ever lived".

You never tried too hard to be popular, instead you always seemed content to do your own thing and do it exceptionally well. If only you had trusted the source material the way you trust your instincts, The Giver might have been the movie you wanted to make almost two decades ago.

I guess sometimes the fans do know best.

With (borderline creepy yet true) love,

Di

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