They say all good things come to those who wait. However, when it comes to the motion picture industry, fast is usually the modus operandi. With the Lois Lowry penned book "The Giver," critically-acclaimed actor Jeff Bridges thought that bringing the film to the big screen would be no big deal. Boy, was he wrong. Initially believing he could do the film in time for his kids to be able to enjoy it, Bridges would soon realize the politics of Hollywood simply would not allow.
“We go back 18 years and I wanted to direct my father in something and I wanted it to be something my children could see,” recalled Bridges. “They were all young, they’re in their 30s now. I looked through a catalog of children’s books and I see this photograph of this old grizzled guy on there and I say ‘Oh, my dad (Lloyd Bridges) can play that part’ and it had the Newbury Award stamp on it. I said ‘Oh, this looks like it could be good.’ It’s a kids’ book but as an adult I fell in love with the story and the themes. I told my wife about it and the kids say ‘Oh, well we know that book. We were taught that book in school. There’s a lesson plan for it’ and I say ‘Oh, you’re kidding me?’ Then I find out it’s also on the list of banned books. I get even more excited because it’s a little dangerous, a little edgy. So I say ‘This is going to be a synch to get made.’ Over 10 million copies sold in 21 countries. The money guys are going to go crazy over this. That didn’t turn out to be true. The controversy of the book being banned…it freaked them out. Also, it was very difficult to put this world from the book up on the screen. So much of it was inner-dialogue this guy was having with himself.”
However, with an all-star cast that features Meryl Streep, Taylor Swift, Cameron Monaghan and Brenton Thwaites as Jonas the Giver, Bridges said the timing might have felt off to him, but everything fell into place right on time.
“I’m really pleased it did take this long,” he admitted. “This was the right team, the right director. Casting is everything. Not only the actors but the crew, certainly our director. The director Philip Noyce was so great. If it was done earlier have the cast wasn’t even born. I’m glad the gestation period was long.”
One of the initial problems that some viewers who had not read the critically-acclaimed book, like us, had with The Giver was it seemed to drop us into a world that we knew very little about. Bridges said the how really didn’t matter. The only thing that did matter was the why of the protagonist and the where of the society at hand.
“Something terrible happens and cut our population down to size. We put a stop to that and we try to perfect ourselves,” said Bridges in describing the film. “It’s an example of one of the things that happens when we do things for convenience. How wonderful it is that we have bottled water. We can drink water whenever we want. What a lousy idea. They say (plastic bottles) are biodegradable, but they’re not. They end up in the ocean, the fish eat them, and we eat the fish. Immediate gratification is part of being a human being. That’s a part of who we are. One of the things I like about the book and the movie as well is that we’re not trying to shove a message down the audience’s throat. Hopefully, it makes them ask some questions. What are we willing to do for our comfort and our safety and what is the true cost of that at the end of the day. “
Lois Lowry wrote "The Giver" 20 years ago, and it took 18 years for it to finally hit the big screen. Bridges said he was almost tempted to give the project up after having to concede and compromise on his vision several times along the way.
“I came to an interesting crossroads in my mind with this movie,” he admitted. “As I’ve said before, originally I was going to drag my father Lloyd into the movie. I spent 18 years going through many different versions of the script, many different directors…trying to realize the vision that I had. And, just generally, my vision was very close to the book. The book moved me in a profound way. I really wanted to do the book justice. I was very concerned about that. And when Harvey Weinstein and Walden Media said ‘Oh, we’ll make this movie, but here’s how we’re going to make it,’ I was like ‘Oh, that’s kind of different than how I imagined it. And I kind of thought about that because I had a decision to make. I could either say ‘Bon voyage guys, I wish you the best of luck. I’m not going to be joining you. I hope you make a good movie.’ This is something I do often in my life. I get to spot, I ask myself ‘How will I feel if I let this go? How will I feel if I engage?’ I thought ‘Well, I can engage and use it as kind of an experiment on myself to practice letting go of control. It’s always kind of a spiritual exercise. I knew that Harvey was an old school movie maker. So, I thought, I’m just going to jump in here and surf this wave and see what happens.”
And Bridges did indeed surf this film until the wheels fell off. Though the central figure in the film was young Brenton Thwaites, Bridges and Streep dominated this rather youthful cast in ways only the two of them could.
On Tuesday, August 12, Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep and the cast of the Weinstein Group film The Giver, based on the book by Lois Lowry, was on hand to discuss and celebrate the release of the film at the Essex House Hotel on Central Park South in New York City. However, all were in something of a somber mood due to the passing of comedy legend Robin Williams, Bridges, who starred alongside Williams in The Fisher King, was particularly open and frank regarding his conflicting feelings of Robin’s suicide, the opening of The Giver and the great memories that Williams left him with as well. In The Fisher King, Williams plays Radioman-an eccentric homeless man who rides from movie shoot to movie shoot and was based on an actual person.
“I just want to talk about the fullness of life,” said Bridges. “The joy and the sadness that is in store for us all. I’m full of both of them today, and I was last night, because of my dear friend’s passing, Robin. The joy of giving birth to our child here, The Giver. The combination was just way remarkable. It sort of reminded me of the Giver and the Receiver.”
In The Giver, Bridges plays The Receiver, the living oracle of all the world’s knowledge and Brenton Thwaites plays The Giver, a young man who feels that this knowledge should be shared with all and not kept hidden.
“It was an amazing night,” he continued. “I remember pulling up to the Boathouse (in Central Park) where we had our premiere party and sitting there with my wife trying to gather myself and I look out the window and I say ‘Is that Robin? Is that his ghost? No, that’s Radioman.’ And it brought back all these wonderful feelings of the amazing time we had together here in New York shooting The Fisher King. And got of the car and embraced Radio Man and looked in his face. I remember when we were shooting Radio Man, he knows where all the movies are shot. I remember seeing Radio Man and I could not believe that Robin’s character was there in reality, but there he was. I felt like I was embracing Robin’s spirit, just as I feel him in this room here with us today.”
Both Williams and Bridges received critical acclaim for their respective roles in The Fisher King. Williams received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor and won a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Motion Picture Comedy as well. Bridges was nominated for a Golden Globe in the same category.
“I’m looking out my window to Central Park, my favorite park of New York, and I’m remembering the last scene of me and Robin out there at 4 o’clock in the morning nude, naked! And Robin was just wild and free and he was rubbing his butt on the grass and saying ‘You know why dogs do this? Because they can!’ He was just so wild. So, I shared that with you because that’s what’s going on with me so strongly. I miss him as I’m sure you guys do. What a gift he was to all of us.”
Despite the fact that some viewers had to mentally catch up to the idea of an unknown society in the aftermath of an unknown disaster drugging and brainwashing away the tainted memories of the past, the themes that are readily apparent appear in thier in all of their obvious, plausible glory. The Shadow League gives The Giver a B-.