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Movie Review: “The Giver”

Movie Review: “The Giver”
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Phillip Noyce’s anodyne adaptation of Lois Lowry’s award-winning 1993 novel strives for gravitas but achieves a light-weight hokey-ness instead.

With a story that owes a debt to Huxley’s “Brave New World” and Orwell’s “1984”, perhaps the novel once seemed daring and full of provocative ideas. But now that dystopian, totalitarian worlds have been mined to death by Young Adult books such as “The Hunger Games” and the “Divergent” trilogies, “The Giver” (the movie) just seems like an imitative retread. The script by Michael Mitnick and Robert B. Weide trots out tired cliches about a futuristic society where a minority of Elders controls the thoughts and actions of the majority. Instead of Districts (as in “The Hunger Games”), we have Communities. Instead of Factions (as in “Divergent”), we have Sameness. People are controlled by a daily injection which masks emotions, and are given jobs for life in a society where there is no color (literally they experience life in black and white), no race and no religion. But it’s a white world that would make John Lennon cringe.

One man in this society holds all memories of past emotion. He is the Receiver of Memories, played by Jeff Bridges who seems to be doing a great Jeff Bridges impersonation (he also brought this project to production as a labor of love). It’s time to transfer his memories to the new Receiver Jonas, chosen due to his ability “to see beyond”. Jonas is played by the young Australian actor Brenton Thwaites (“Maleficent”) who has the clean good looks and vapidity of a fifties surf-movie star.

“The Giver” is at once slow to proceed yet at 100 minutes seems to gallop over important plot developments and nuance. Meryl Streep is imperious as the Chief Elder, who believes she is protecting her communities from the pain of the past. But by withholding memory of war, death and cruelty she is also denying people the ability to feel love, appreciate beauty and experience joy. An impassioned speech from her character in the third act saves her performance from being totally one-note.

Design-wise, “The Giver” looks like it could have been made in the 1970s with those now out-dated ideas of how the future would look. People live in white, box-like dwellings, eat what look like TV dinners off plastic trays and ride very funny looking bicycles (I couldn’t get past this fact….people pedaling around pristine roadways as spacecraft flew overhead). “Blade Runner” this isn’t.

The “communities” exist on a geographical plain rising out of the mists like an other-wordly mesa. Down below among the clouds there is a “boundary of memory” or so it is believed by The Giver. Jonas is quickly trained by The Giver and his eyes are opened to the black and white wool that is being pulled over his eyes and he starts to see in color. Noyce films these flashes of memories in a gauzy, slow-motion haze redolent of cheesy television movies and we never really feel any of the emotion that Jonas is supposed to be experiencing. Desperate to have his friends and family understand the finer points of life and death, he soon goes rogue, riding a space-agey motorbike off the edge of the cliffs into the unknown. It just takes Jonas a hop, skip and a jump to reach the boundary and BAM! all memory is returned to mankind. Why or how this happens is unclear and I can only imagine it makes a lot more sense in the book.

Fans of the novel will be saddened to see their beloved book turned into such trite dross. Everyone else will put this one down to being a weak follower in the dystopian future YA romance department. And we will all look forward to November 21st when Katniss Everdeen once more prowls the screen with her trusty bow and arrow.


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