According to YA books, futuristic dystopias — for all their downsides — will make great strides in letting strong women hold positions of power. And in their film adaptations these leaders will be particularly effective if they are portrayed by Oscar-caliber actresses. Kate Winslet ruled mightily in Divergent, Patricia Clarkson heads a secret organization in September’s The Maze Runner, and Julianne Moore will be the rebel leader President Coin in the upcoming The Hunger Games: Mockingjay. Now, Meryl Streep is getting her chance to be drunk with power as Chief Elder of the black-and-white world of The Giver, based on the Newberry Award-winning classic by Lois Lowry.
As the new trailer shows, Streep’s Chief Elder leads an isolated society where emotions, privacy, and basic colors have all been stripped away from its citizens. She sums up her philosophy as, “When people have the freedom to choose, they choose wrong.” All the memories of how the world once was are held in the mind of the Giver (Jeff Bridges), who will pass on his knowledge to one chosen young person. But when Jonas (played by Brenton Thwaites) is selected and he learns about his capacity for feelings, his deviation from “sameness” makes him a threat to the established order.
It’s not the first time Streep has appeared in a movie based on a children’s book, having previously played a smaller role in 2004’s Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. But that was more of a cartoonish character: Her portrayal of the Chief Elder looks like it combines the icy detachment of The Devil’s Wears Prada with the unbending determination of The Iron Lady. Also, it feels surprising that this is the first time she’s worked with Jeff Bridges in their long careers.
Also starring Katie Holmes, Alexander Skarsgard and Taylor Swift, The Giver arrives in theaters on Aug. 15.