Directed by Phillip Noyce. Starring Jeff Bridges, Brenton Thwaites, Meryl Streep, Alexander Skarsgård, Katie Holmes, Odeya Rush, Cameron Monaghan, Emma Tremblay, Taylor Swift. (2014, PG-13, 94 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Aug. 15, 2014
Teenage dystopias may seem to be all the rage in movies these days, as demonstrated by the popularity of the Twilight and Hunger Games franchises as well as the smaller successes of other films like Divergent and Never Let Me Go. The Giver certainly fits into the trend, but it’s no Johnny-come-lately to the party. Lois Lowry’s 1993 Newbery Medal-winning novel The Giver is a modern young-adult classic that’s been celebrated as well as reviled. Required reading for some middle-schoolers, Lowry’s novel is also on the banned-books list in certain school districts. Co-producer Jeff Bridges has been trying to mount a film adaptation for many years but claims to have been met with stubborn opposition until recently. To give an idea of how long Bridges has been at it, the original plan was for his father Lloyd Bridges to play the part of the Giver of memories – the role that the Dude now plays himself.
The Giver’s dystopic society is a manmade invention born of good intentions. Following the unexplained Ruin, humanity has reorganized itself into colorless Communities, where contentment is achieved by means of a bland but aesthetically pleasing conformity and daily injections of an emotion squelcher. All memory of the past has been erased, save for one soul chosen by the all-seeing Council of Elders to be the Giver. As the movie opens, Jonas (Thwaites) has been selected to be the new Receiver of memories. Although the Community (which is what its residents call the place where they live) has no knowledge of civilization’s accomplishments and history, they also have no knowledge of hatred, war, and conflict.
The early portion of The Giver is filmed in high-contrast black and white. Gradually, as Jonas receives more knowledge and stops taking his daily injection, muted colors begin to enter the frame, somewhat in the manner of Pleasantville. Even before the Elders selected him, Jonas suspected he was somewhat different from the others. One hint is that he suddenly sees the hair color of his inamorata Fiona (Rush), not to mention that he has what the Community calls “stirrings” for another. Jonas’ training consists of some kind of Vulcan mind meld with the Giver, during which the two race through history with seconds-long flash cuts to random imagery and experiences. The film begins to get a bit lost as the story develops and pushes toward a wobbly climax and conclusion. And what to make of that sled, which is the first bit of knowledge Jonas receives. Rosebud, anyone?