Before the genre of Young Adult was the genre of Young Adult, there was Lois Lowry who wrote The Giver in 1993. Now, there’s a movie of it, starring Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges. The question, though, is: Does The Giver give us a good movie?
First things first. A bit of context. The Giver is not an uncontroversial book. While it is on many reading lists in the United States, it’s also one of the most challenged books. This means that there are quite some parents and other people who want to see the book banned from school libraries and off teacher’s teaching plans so that their kids can’t read it. In fact, the Top 100 list of challenged books of the 1990s, The Giver is number 11. The reason for this is that parents think that the book is too violent and too dark for children of the just-before-teenage demographic.
Be that as it may, the movie is certainly too boring for anyone of any demographic. So let’s look at the first movie of the Young Adult genre that just fails.
The Plot of The Giver
It’s the future. Because why wouldn’t it be. Some sort of apocalypse has happened and humanity has survived. Humans now live in some sort of compound where the paramount policy is Sameness, which entails the complete absence of privacy, colour or genuine emotion. Humans just work. At the age of 16, people get assigned jobs that they carry out until the end of their lives.
The movie neglects to tell us this. Instead we just see a black and white opening of a movie with people cycling around on futuristic bikes. So right off the bat, there’s no context. Sure, there’s a text crawl at the beginning talking about some sort of something, but – seriously – when’s the last time since the 1980s where you’ve actually read one of those?
The main character, Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) gets selected to be the Receiver of Memories, a rather special job. Because what the movie doesn’t really tell us either is that apparently, everybody has forgotten everything before the non-specified apocalypse. There is another job called The Giver (Jeff Bridges). He’s the one who remembers things from before Sameness. Why? Nobody knows, nobody cares. However, it’s important that Jonas now gets all the memories of everything and then passes them on.
Jonas learns about genuine emotion. About love, about smiling, about colour. But he also learns about war and pain and death.
There’s also a subplot about eugenics that will come out of nowhere and then suddenly take center stage. Were these spoilers? Yeah, but don’t worry, the entire thing comes so out of left field, there’s nothing even indicating that it’s coming up.
Why it Fails
The problem is that The Giver is more like a random assortment of scenes than the unfolding of a narrative. The characters are so flat that you can’t really get invested in any one of them. Jonas, the Reciver of Memories, is painfully obviously The Chosen One in some plot that doesn’t reveal itself until the last ten minutes. Up until then, the movie doesn’t go anywhere but follows a repetitive and predictable pattern.
- «Receiver of Memories, go to the guy. You will learn. Don’t tell anyone about what you learn.»
- Memories are transferred by means of skin contact.
- Jonas goes home
- Tells everyone about his work
- Random announcement from speakers goes «Don’t do whatever it is that you just did or presumably some sort of unspecified punishment will follow»
- Nothing happens.
- Jonas goes back to The Giver
In addition to all that, the movie is mostly made up of random stock footage. Animals, people, sledding, skies, fireworks. Who cares? Before YouTube, this would actually have had more of an impact, but there are inspirational nature footage videos everywhere. Or compilations of people doing awesome things such as shooting hoops from impossible angles or climbing buildings dressed as a character from a video game. These videos are better shot and better edited and overlaid with better music than anything we see in The Giver.
For example, see this movie dedicated to showing us the beauty of this world. It’s called TimeScapes 4k and has, just imagery and music, without any clearly defined story or voices. And I kind of doubt that it’s the only one of its kind.
And if you like your beautiful world more static, there’s always Earth Porn. And because it’s really hard to even find some interesting stills from the movie, here’s a picture of a waterfall in Iceland.
So while the story might work in book form because images can only hope to evoke an emotional reaction such as joy, love, awe and whathaveyou. This is a skill that is up to the director and the cameramen. Sadly, director Phillip Noyce (director of such movies as Salt, The Saint and The Bone Collector) fails there. His imagery seems shallow and made of plastic, failing completely to make any kind of impression on viewers other than «Right. Time to get beer» because you’re not missing much if anything during those scenes.
On the other hand, because this movie stars Jeff Bridges and he has been passionate about making for years and years, it’s entirely possible that this movie is supposed to be watched while high. Because after all, Jeff Bridges has never been better than when he was The Dude in The Big Lebowski. He willingly admits to be a recreational smoker of marijuana.
Bad jokes aside, feel free to skip this movie. It doesn’t really add anything thought-provoking, interesting or overly exciting. It’s the first Young Adult movie that I’ve seen that is just bland and forgettable. Even the black and white footage that shifts to colour every now and can’t remedy that. Still, here’s a trailer. Maybe you’ll like it. Probably not, though. Let us know in the comments. We would like to hear from you.