“The Giver,” which was written 21 years ago and published in 1993, sparked the interest of actor Jeff Bridges early on.
Bridges obtained the rights for the novel in 1995 and has since been planning to adapt it into a film. He started working on a script, and originally wanted to cast his father as “The Giver,” but as the project kept getting delayed, Bridges decided to take on the role as The Giver himself.
“The Giver,” written by Lois Lowry is a sci-fi drama about a futuristic utopian community where a boy by the name of Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) is chosen to be The Receiver of memories of the “real” world. When The Giver transfers his memories to Jonas, the young boys goes through a transformation that makes him realize the community is fake and he will need to face decisions that will transform not only his life but the fate of the whole community.
“I read it and it knocks me out, as a kids book. As an adult I’m just loving the story,” Bridges said during a press conference for the film that took place in Manhattan on Tuesday August 12, 2014.
He then found out that his kids were reading the book as part of school curriculum and that it sold over 10 million copies worldwide. Getting excited, Bridges thought studios would pick it up immediately.
But there was also controversy attached to the story.
In the utopian society where race, color, differences, social classes, family ties, and all human emotion were erased, things like euthanasia seemed almost instinctive if not necessary. Those who would not comply with the rules of the community or who were weaker and unsuitable were “released” by a simple intravenous injection, or in other words they were killed.
“The financiers were too shy about it, and so it took this long,” Bridges said.
Although the wait was long, Bridges was not scorn about the time lag, saying it actually helped him assemble the best cast and get all the details worked out.
“If it was made earlier, Odeya [Burns] wasn’t born,” Bridges joked. Burns, 17, plays the love interest of Jonas in his community.
Bridges stayed close to the original vision of the book as he wanted to do the novel justice.
“It moved me in a profound way…” he said about the story. But when he met with film studio executive Harvey Weinstein who had his own ideas and terms for making the film, Bridges said he hit a spiritual crossroad in his career where he began to learn the process of letting go.
“Generally I wanted to roll and take all of these different changes and different conceptions than mine and let them be, almost, aspects of my larger self,” he said.
Like for example the ages of the kids in the novel were around the age of 12, but in the film they are teenagers graduating from high school.
As a practicing Buddhist, Bridges compared the process of letting go to the balancing of yin and yang, where he would be stern and unshakable like the male yang symbol with some aspects or go with the flow like the feminine yin symbol on other details in the film.
The crew, including the screenwriters and Bridges would have deep philosophical discussions on set where they would question everything from consumerism to the purpose of life.
“[This movie] is not really shoving a message down the audience’s throat, but hopefully it’s provoking them to ask some questions. ‘What are we willing to do for our comfort and our safety, and what is the true cost of that as a human being,'” Bridges said.