The Giver (2014)
★★ / ★★★★
After an event only referred to as The Ruin, the Elders (the chief elder played by Meryl Streep) decided to erase all humanity’s memories of the past in order to create a new society defined by true equality. People’s ability to choose is also taken away and the Elders must be respected for never erring. Although people have lived in serenity since then, acts of evil remain—only the practices are more sleuth and hidden behind euphemisms like “release” and “Elsewhere.”
Directed by Phillip Noyce, “The Giver” brims with potential in terms of its capacity to entertain, to get us to be involved emotionally, and to dazzle us in such a way that very few dystopian films aimed at young adults have achieved. Instead, the final work comes across superficial, rushed, and laughable at times due to its glaring contradictions. The screenplay by Michael Mitnick and Robert B. Weide does not provide an effective transition between novel and film so, in the end, there is only potential and mediocrity.
At least it offers some visual splendor. The first third of the picture is in black-and-white to denote a society that is devoid of diversity, flavor, and excitement. As our protagonist begins to learn more about the tyranny imposed upon his community, spots of color are more easily seen—by him as well as the audience.
Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) is assessed to have all four traits that could make an excellent receiver of memory: intelligence, courage, integrity, and the capacity to see beyond. He is required to visit The Giver (Jeff Bridges) on a daily basis in order for him to receive the memory of the past—good and bad. But the stark differences between the past and present inspire Jonas to challenge the current system. He feels that the memories should not be contained but be given to everybody.
Underwritten characters are abound. While Jonas can be relatively interesting at times because of Thwaites’ ability to convey innocence and determination, we do not completely get under the skin of the lead character’s inner thoughts and personal turmoil. Thus, he is not a believable savior, certainly not someone we can imagine making it through the challenges given by those in charge. Compared to well-written leads in recent dystopian pictures targeted toward teenagers, such as Katniss Everdeen in “The Hunger Games” series and Thomas in “The Maze Runner” series, Jonas is too bland, without a modicum of urgency and innate fire.
I did not buy into the friendships whatsoever. Scenes involving Fiona (Odeya Rish) and Asher (Cameron Monghan) are a complete bore. We do not learn anything about their lives, let alone how they think or what it is about them that are drawn to one another. They are defined only by their actions toward the end to prove whether or not their friendship with Jonas is strong. The same critique can be applied to Jonas’ family. Mother (Katie Holmes) and Father (Alexander Skarsgård) lack dimension so when they are required to do anything, there is no tension prior to their supposedly defining decisions.
The only moments with a glimmer of wonder involve Jonas and The Giver’s private sessions. As memories are being transferred, we get to see glimpses of them. The images are filled with color, energy, and vitality that they completely overshadow everything else, from the lackluster speeches made by Chief Elder to the romance between Jonas and Fiona.
Based on the book by Lois Lowry, “The Giver” will be begging to be remade ten to twenty years from now. I believe that the story can be translated exactly right to the screen. We have the technology for it. We just need screenwriters daring enough to take risks and make necessary changes in order to aid the transition. And because of the depth of the material, the running time will absolutely need to be longer than the current standard.