Dystopias are all the rage in young adult fiction which means (in pursuit of the almighty adolescent dollar) they are all the rage in Hollywood as well. Teens are flocking to the likes of “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent” and it’s not all that hard to figure out why.
The plot typically involves a seemingly average teenager who discovers that he or she has some secret, special ability that has the power to change a flawed world that’s nowhere near as perfect as it pretends to be.
This is certainly a comforting thought for the coming-of-age set, especially after being atomic-wedgied by the entire football team. It makes even more sense when you add in the desire to overthrow megalomaniacal leaders (mom, dad) and their oppressive systems of control (that b.s. curfew).
It’s fair to argue the 1993 Lois Lowry novel “The Giver” is the progenitor of this formula and it is logical now would be the time for it to get the big-screen treatment.
“The Giver” seems rather simple and straightforward when compared to all that has come after, but the film manages to use smallness to its advantage and it works in spite of being less flashy than other entrants into the genre.
Our hero is Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) an average teenage boy who lives in a futuristic community based on the principle of “sameness.” Free of choice, with those powers given to a panel of elders, citizens live peaceful lives where emotions are curbed by daily injections.
Everything seems hunky-dory until Jonas is singled out to become the new Receiver, the only person in the community with memories of the past who is tasked with using this knowledge to advise the elders.
Jonas is given these memories from the current Receiver, who now becomes the Giver (Jeff Bridges, at his bearded, stoic best). Along with memories of the past come emotions, independent thought, and the ability to see colors.
Needless to say, Jonas’ mind is blown and he begins to see how deprived other members of the community are, especially those closest to him like his friends Fiona (Odeya Rush) and Asher (Cameron Monaghan) and his parents (Alexander Skarsgard and Katie Holmes).
Seeing the pervasive flaws in the system, Jonas starts to rebel, which draws the concerned attention of the Chief Elder (Meryl Streep as matronly as ever).
The message that life in a world without emotion or choice is safe but joyless is about as subtle as Charlton Heston passing out the recipe for Soylent Green. Even still, director Phillip Noyce (best known for spy thrillers like “Patriot Games,” “Clear and Present Danger” and “Salt”) sure does manage to make it all positively life-affirming.
“The Giver” isn’t totally satisfying as the circumstances that created this world along with where the memories come from and how they are transmitted are important details that get yada-yada-ed.
You can tell why the source material is considered entry-level literature assigned to middle schoolers as the gravitas of Bridges and Streep are the only thing that keeps this movie from blowing away into the ether.
On the plus side, it’s nice to see a movie aimed at teens that’s not overblown and over-marketed, which is a welcome change no matter what kind of topia you are living in.
“The Giver” is rated PG-13 for a mature thematic image and some sci-fi action/violence.