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Review: The Giver – Please take it back … and apologize

Posted by on August 15, 2014 – 1:30 am

The GiverIf there is one thing we’ve learned from science fiction films over the past couple of years it is that teens are in for a rough ride in our inevitable dystopian society. They are either going to be committed to a designated “faction” (Divergent), selected as “Tributes” and forced to fight each other for food (The Hunger Games), trained as ultimate space soldiers (Ender’s Game), or, as is suggested by the new film, The Giver, given a banal work assignment in a dull future where non-mundane thoughts can only be held by the “Keeper of Memories.” If that means I wouldn’t have to remember this lackluster movie, then sign me up.

Based on the young adult novel by Lois Lowry, The Giver tells the story of sixteen year-old Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), who has been selected as a “Receiver of Memories” for his ability to dream, see colors and feel emotions – even though, like the rest of the population in this “community” of the future, he is drugged on a daily basis in order to suppress his feelings.

The “community” is run by a group of old-fogies, headed by a Chief Elder (Meryl Streep), and is located at the flat top of a mountain that rises above the clouds. No one can see beyond the mist that envelops their civilization, although some claim to have glimpsed trees beyond the clouds. Citizens of this vanilla world have no choices, problems, or worries – or so they think.

The GiverThe film is all in black & white until Jonas begins to “feel” things, prompted by his mentor, the Giver (Jeff Bridges), who is teaching the boy to handle the pain and strife that comes with reality. As the hero becomes more in tune with history and the true human experience, we begin to see, through his eyes, shades of color start to emerge (a la the film Pleasantville.)

The old people of this society are “released” to “Elsewhere,” which, we eventually find out, is code for being euthanized and disposed of; and the babies who won’t shut up and be quiet do not fare any better. There is also some quirky “precision of language” thing going on, where citizens are not allowed to use words that elicit emotion; and if they cross the line they are expected to immediately apologize for their trespass. (I wish that the director, Phillip Noyce, and screenwriters, Michael Mitnick and Robert Weide, would take this movie back and apologize for it.)

After Jonas gets a taste of reality (more like a taste of his girlfriend’s lips – played by Emma Tremblay), he’s off to save the community, a baby (who has the birthmark of a memory keeper), his girlfriend, and the Giver. The only way he can restore the former civilization is by crossing a boundary (think Planet of the Apes’ “Forbidden Zone”) that will magically release all memories back into the world.

I haven’t read the Lois Lowry book, but it has sold more than ten-million copies and won a Newbery Medal, so it has to be much better than this dingy film. There are some thought-provoking themes and ideas here, but I’m guessing they play a lot better on paper than they do in this mess of a movie.

The GiverIf you manage to still be awake by the last act of The Giver, the film finally has a little bit of action, but it’s so inane that you’ll quickly wish it would go back to just being boring. When Jonas jumps his motorized bicycle off of a cliff (with the baby attached to the handlebars) the film lost me completely, and I won’t even go into the tractor-beam river-drop sequence.

Brenton Thwaites is a fine young actor with a future, but it’s strange that he played a much older character in The Signal (an immensely better sci-fi flick) than he does here – making me wonder which film was shot first. Alexander Skarsgard (the next big-screen Tarzan) plays Jonas’ father, Katie Holmes plays his mother, and musician Taylor Swift makes a cameo as a former “Receiver of Memories.” The acting is good overall, with Bridges turning in a very nice performance, but Streep’s talents are completely wasted in her role as the Chief Elder.

The end-credit song, “Ordinary Human” by OneRepublic and Ryan Tedder, is awesome, but when the ending tune is the highlight, you know the film is in trouble. This movie is really a shame, as I’m sure there are a lot of lovers of the book who are hoping for an intelligent theatrical version of the story and who are likely going to be very disappointed. Maybe your memory of that book is not a good thing…? Grade: 3/10

Photos © 2014 The Weinstein Company