STARRING: Brenton Thwaites, Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Alexander Skarsgård, Katie Holmes

2014, 94 Minutes, Directed by:
Phillip Noyce

The Giver photoIn the movies, as in life, timing is everything. In the case of The Giver it’s a movie that’s several years too late.

Lois Lowry’s 1993 novel of the same name is considered a modern classic of Young Adult literature and won the Newbury Award for children’s fiction. Its story of a boy who comes to question the society lives in, disrupting the social order, anticipated series like The Hunger Games and, even more so, Divergent.

That’s the problem. If the movie had been made years ago, when actor/producer Jeff Bridges first optioned it, it would have been daring and cutting edge. Now, even though the book long pre-dated other YA dystopian stories, the movie arrives late to the party. It’s got a strong cast and solid production values – along with the narrative problems these stories have – but watching it now it seems like a television knockoff of the other films.

For those who didn’t encounter the book on the required reading list, the story involves Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), who lives a happy life in an idyllic community where everyone knows their role and all troubles seem to have been banished. When the Chief Elder (Meryl Streep) gives out the jobs to his graduating class, he is apprenticed to the Giver (Jeff Bridges). He alone will be given the memories of the terrible way the world use to be – as well as good things like love and sex – that have been erased from their society. We know it’s a tough role because the last apprentice (Taylor Swift in a cameo), didn’t make it.

"Watching it now it seems like a television knockoff of Hunger Games and Divergent . . ."

The more Jonas learns the truth about his society the more he sees how brainwashed everyone is from his parents (Alexander Skarsgård, Katie Holmes) to his friends (Odeya Rush, Cameron Monaghan). When he decides to act on his new knowledge, it’s only a matter of time before he’s found out and the elders are forced to react.  

As with so many of these youthful dystopian stories, it serves as a metaphor for adolescence. It’s the coming of age story where the protagonist loses his innocence in the ways of the world, and adult authority figures try to enforce conformity and crush rebellion. At this point, such movies no longer shake us out of our complacency because we’ve seen it too many times.

In the adult roles, Streep and Bridges give the crisp performances we expect from them. Skarsgård and Holmes are bit more surprising playing against type, with the former genial and kind and the latter strict in her loyalties to the norms. The younger actors are a bit blander, although Monaghan shows some signs of life in the thankless friend role.

Along with last year’s Ender’s Game, this is a movie adaptation that took way too long to happen, so that the quality of the film is no longer the point.

Taken on its own The Giver works in its low-key way, so long as you don’t ask too many questions about how the society it depicts sustains itself. As a new entry in a sub-genre that is well along the way to having run its course, it may be a case of too little, too late.

- Daniel Kimmel


Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. He recently released his first novel, Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.


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