Screened Out – The Giver

By : Stephen Miller
Comments: 2

Jeff Bridges, Brenton Thwaites, Meryl Streep, Odeya Rush, Katie Holmes, Alexander Skarsgård

The Giver, based on the well-loved Young Adult novel is too much theme and not enough character, conflict, or plot. It doesn’t ask compelling questions; instead, it delivers feel-good answers so that junior high students can understand human suffering. It’s a bit Geroge Orwell, a bit Brave New World. It also borrows from the religious book Why do Bad Things Happen to Good People? Mash them together and film it, and you’ve got The Giver.

That’s sad, because I believe a lot of love and work went into trying to make it work. The flick boasts amazing acting talent all around – the Oscar winners and the youths – and it’s led by director Philip Noyce (Salt, Clear and Present Danger). The producer Weinstein brothers bankrolled the project. The art direction and photography are both interesting. The problem is this is all too simplistic for us to care.

In a grey-toned utopian future, humanity has been stripped of everything that would make us unique – skin color, financial disparity, struggle, and even memory. Kids are born in high-tech farms and live with “parents” until their 18th year, when they are assigned a job. Everyone takes drugs to keep emotion in check.

The only people who can play outside these rules are memory keepers (Bridges and the young Thwaites), sage advisors who, with a touch, pass the whole of human memory to each other.

Is there going to be a rebellion? You think?

Even some amazing acting by Meryl Streep cannot cover the logical gaps in the storytelling.

Even some amazing acting by Meryl Streep cannot cover the logical gaps in the storytelling.

As Bridges is giving memory to young Thwaites, he awakens the boy’s longing for love, color, adventure, and struggle. No real surprises here.

The film never explains how the society got here, why people let this happen. This simplistic, somewhat slow flick raises too many technical questions it never answers. I had a difficult time believing the world could ever exist.

Film is a literal medium, but not always a literate one. Novels can do amazing things – create planets and societies and moods that do not need to be fully explained. The odd absurdist flick notwithstanding (and this ain’t one of them), film needs to explain enough of its world that we get a sense of logic about it.

So much of The Giver’s world is monitored; one wonders how anyone could ever get away with a crime. Characters act inconsistently, and things “miraculously” happen that really need some details filled in. One wonders why these issues have festered as long as they have if the solution is so easy. The hero (Thwaites) makes hard choices instead of easy ones to fix the problem; he takes crazy, unnecessary risks. Even the passing of memory lacks any logic. Did humans evolve? Is it an anomaly? How was it discovered? Why does it work?

Ratings Key

See it now! Buy the DVD! Quote lines at parties!

Definitely worth the price of admission

It’s useful as a distraction

Maybe if someone else pays and you need a nap

Slightly worse than eternal damnation

The goal here is noble. Lois Lowry’s novel got junior high kids to thinking about strife and its ability to shape and improve character. It also calls into question our society’s increasing medication of ADHD and other adolescent “problems.”

The film may help as a CliffsNotes version for students who hate to read. Even with all the love put into it, its simplicity and lack of explanation means it doesn’t succeed at anything else. I keep wondering how someone could’ve turned the esoteric book into a consummate movie; I’m just not sure it could’ve been done, but a little logical explanation couldn’t have hurt.

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