STARRING: Brenton Thwaites, Jeff
Bridges, Meryl Streep, Alexander Skarsgård, Katie Holmes
2014, 94 Minutes, Directed by: Phillip Noyce
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
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
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.
"Watching it now it seems like a television knockoff of
Hunger Games and Divergent . . ."
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
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 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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