The Giver Directed by: Philip Noyce Cast: Brenton Thwaites, Odeya Rush, Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Alexander Skarsgaard, Katie Holmes Running Time: 1 hr 34 mins Rating: PG-13 Release Date: August 15, 2014
PLOT: A young man (Thwaites) living in a black-and-white future is shown colors by a piano-playing sage named The Giver (Bridges).
WHO'S IT FOR? Like your dystopias young and broody? Sure you do.
The proverbial ship, its path pushed by the passage of time, filled with passengers fighting for a seat during such a voyage, has sailed. In terms of The Giver, the old wooden vessel in this brilliant metaphor is the tale of the young chosen one rebelling against a messed up future, as one may call it. Though its source novel was written long before the films like The Hunger Games, Divergent, or even The Lego Movie, The Giver remains in the young adult sci-fi dystopic shadows of the movies it should be conquering. The idea of what The Lego Movie called “the special,” or how Shailene Woodley declared “I’m divergent” in Divergent, no longer holds the same guff. The constant barrage of revolutions led by young messiahs, recently completely served You Got Served-style by The Lego Movie, has reached a Marvel-esque point of nothingness. Heroes within these nightmarish futures of political nuttiness have created their own group of non-specials. While it has faults of plain filmmaking in isolated aspects, the main flaw of this project that has taken two decades to get here; The Giver is a movie that arrives too late, and with such bad timing.
The story from Lois Lowry’s 1992 novel doesn’t have the same spark when it plays out on the big screen in 2014. Brenton Thwaites plays Jonas, a young man living in a society that expunged feelings of individualism, and has organized and drugged its members to the point in which they don’t choose their life work, nor do they know how to calm down babies. However, Jonas is special, and is chosen to live outside the rules of this society, unlike his friend Fiona (Odeya Rush), who is assigned to be a nanny for life. Jonas' parents are example citizens of society, with his mother (Katie Holmes) a leader who thumps the rule book even at the dinner table, and his father (Alexander Skarsgaard) a hospital attendant who participates in one of the society's most crucial services.
Jonas’ new job is to listen to the grumbling ruminations by a man who lives alone, named The Giver (Jeff Bridges), and to learn from this sage the ways of the former world. Jonas is given this sweet gig in order to carry on the memories of a society that destroyed itself, and has resulted in this perfect plain world that Jonas and others live now.
But lo and behold, the human heart and mind is too restless to be permanently quieted, the Radio Raheem brass knuckles of love and hate a seed nonetheless to create a true and purposeful being. After understanding the intense emotions of the real world that await him, he begins to start trouble in his society (which allows him to be the only person in his community who can lie). With The Giver slowly opening up Jonas’ mind to the atrocities of the past world, but also its goodness, Jonas embarks on a revolution to enlighten his entire society. At the same time, he also begins to learn of the horror within his world, and the inhumane sacrifices waged in order to sedate a civilization because its leaders are afraid of letting people be human.
The most that can be said for The Giver is that it begins in black-and-white, a disorienting move for mainstream films that don’t already come with the promise of appearing classic. Such usage is demandingly stark. As the movie Pleasantville’s itself through Jonas’ slow epiphany, the best quality of this aesthetic choice is not merely its presence, but its precision, in which the film invites viewers to feel the slow difference in shades of a color as the world illuminates itself more to Jonas. While its physical camera work leaves some to be desired, The Giver could be taught in a cinematography class to appreciate the language of color. The slowly changing palette of The Giver provides at least the hope that there is more to say in such a film, despite the whole played-out storyline.
Instead of offering a massive training sequence or a big battle, the revolution within The Giver is mostly a light intellectual one, tied with a Baby’s Day Out mad dash made by Jonas in the third act that doesn’t garner the pulsating urgency that director Philip Noyce is hoping for. The Giver is largely concerned with its scenes about Jonas being given the intel, and confronting the complications of humanity. This is certainly a departure from the larger spectacles to be found in similar youth revolution movies, but the course of the story feels simplified. The slow realizations in The Giver do not inspire the central fire that this movie needs, instead it provides more weight to the notion that this project emblematically thinks too slow. Even Warm Bodies will tell you that love is what makes people human, and is the dystopia’s worst enemy. We get it, The Giver. We’ve already seen these movies.
The shoulder shrug directed towards The Giver becomes a sadder one when the plainness of this project is realized to have a tragedy beyond its source story. Even the Jeff Bridges aspect makes The Giver a grayer cloud, considering the interest he's had with this novel for years, having filmed his own version of the novel alongside his nephew in a now highly-in-demand lo-fi adaptation. Now, the Bridges Acting Factor is played out as well, with his take of a character he once dreamed of his father playing just looking reflecting memories of previous gargling wise man roles from other Jeff Bridges movies.
Without speaking from the perspective of my two-page screenplay adaptation of The Giver drafted long before I understood how films worked, or how producers assemble them to cash in on trends, Lowry’s novel has been one of film’s missing adaptations, despite its preparation for the big screen. Maybe in a different part of time, revisiting The Giver will allow the movie to be special again. It’s such a vivid novel to read at the right time, a revolution within a book. For now, its impact has been muffed, a long-awaited story relying most on chromatic contrast against its cinematic predecessors.
FINAL SCORE: 4/10