Give and Take



This weekend I watched two movies, The Giver and Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky. I found some common themes in them.

First, as always, the book version of The Giver is better than the movie. That being said, the movie is a fairly faithful adaptation. And if you are trying to quit smoking, do NOT watch Coco and Igor. Just. Don't.

I have a personal bias in favour of Lois Lowry's book, I must confess. I read it to my kids and I taught it for some years. I was particularly impressed that when I emailed the author with a question, she replied personally and in depth. ('Like!') I think the book is valuable on many levels and the notion of banning it in many jurisdictions is ludicrous. Okay, off that soap box.... [Sidebar: Meryl, my fave, was a little less creepy than I had been led to believe by the movie trailers; I wish the director had exploited her talent a little more there. Jeff Bridges was also less taciturn than his novel counterpart (again, a directorial issue?). Mads Mikkelsen and Anna Mouglalis were perfect in their casting and their delivery, however. Suppporting cast in Coco was much stronger than in The Giver.]

So, where are the commonalities in the two films? In social norms and identity.
Both were about the dangers of excess. In The Community, excess is strongly discouraged, right down to ‘comfort objects’ for children (bedtime plush toys) and ‘precision of language’ (repressed emoting and verbal expression). But in 1920s Paris, excess is the norm and repressing one’s urges seems naïve. These views are represented, respectively, by the initial black and white cinematography in the homogenous Community and the party-happy society who love the (Nijinsky choreography of the) ballet for The Rite of Spring versus the oldsters scandalized by it. {Pina Bausch fans: you’re gonna go crazy for the first few minutes of the film!} So far, so obvious.
Both films dealt with the theme of conformity: the world of Jonas hinges on it, and Coco bucks it every step of the way: she has a f*** you attitude towards the status quo (which probably explains her success, though). In the Giver’s community, every word, every motion is being monitored by video with immediate feedback (read: admonition) through a public loudspeaker. Do you want to give conformity the middle finger, or do you want to just do it mentally?
The less obvious theme in common with both films, however, is that of not being in sync with the time and place you live in (being an outsider? an innovator? a loser? a genius?). Without raising spoiler hackles, Jonas bucks the system but both Coco and Igor do so less successfully in that it divides them eventually, although their professional successes have longevity. How to flip the bird at society without personal cost? Enter the concept of Sacrifice.
 
Artistically, The Giver is a little weak: it lacks the tension and tautness of writing that was in the book. Coco and Igor, however, is lush, sensual landscape. But they both have something to offer introspective souls. Life is unpredictable, but the twists and turns are what mould character and values. Or can, depending on the person involved.

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