Take a Drink: every time you hear the word “community” or “communities”
Do a Shot: for each shot (or “injection”) in the movie.
Take a Drink: when you hear the words “triangle of rocks.”
Finish Your Drink: when you first hear the term “The Giver” used in the film.
By: Abby Olcese (Three Beers) –
The film industry has been depicting dystopian futures for almost as long as there’s been a screen to put them on. One of the earliest notable examples, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, came out in 1927. The popularity of stories like Hunger Games and Divergent isn’t new. They’ve been around for a very long time.
But what makes the recent spate of YA dystopian sci-fi different is also the problem at its core: it’s bland. Every movie is cut from the same cloth, a cloth woven, sadly, by the Twilight movies. The teen-focused sci-fi that came in Twilight’s sparkly wake has been cookie-cutter in everything from plot to set design to the sorts of “hip”-but-colorless soundtracks responsible for saddling popular culture with Imagine Dragons.
This is why The Giver such a disappointment. The film’s source, a 20-year-old classic of children’s literature, is unique, subtle and simple, but profoundly emotional. In any other decade, there might have been a chance of keeping the attributes that make the book so special. But unfortunately, The Giver, like Divergent before it, has been adapted into a sterilized, simplified lump.
The film tells the story of Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), a teenager living in a future where every potential source of conflict between people (emotion, religion, art, you name it) has been removed. Even the perception of color has been taken away so that nobody recognizes racial differences.
Just like Stephen Colbert.
As part of an annual ceremony where teenagers learn their assigned community roles, Jonas learns that he’s been assigned the job of Receiver of Memory, the one person tasked with holding onto the knowledge of what life was like before everything changed. Jonas spends time with the previous Receiver (Jeff Bridges), who shares all he knows. He also causes Jonas to question their society, and to eventually rebel against the system.
The film depicts things like colorblindness as well as could be expected by putting most of the film in black and white , only switching to color when Jonas learns to see it. The movie also does an admirable job of keeping the darker elements that makes the book such a jarring experience for children. For most of its run time, it hits those stark emotional cues head-on.
For a movie with a central message about the importance of individuality and art, The Giver is surprisingly uncaring about being either unique or artistic. The set design and costumes look like they could’ve been borrowed from any of the recent YA blockbusters, and its depiction of family life and development of any character other than Thwaites and Bridges is one-dimensional at best. It leads to some really dull performances, which is even more disappointing given who that cast includes. The Giver manages to make Meryl Streep, Alexander Skarsgard, and, worst of all, Jeff Bridges, about as interesting as a dust bunny convention.
On second thought…dust bunnies might be more interesting.
Which brings me to my biggest beef with the movie, the thing that makes me the most disappointed -that it didn’t have to be this way. This version of The Giver is absolutely a product of the time in which it was made, and is similar enough to existing YA film properties to get lumped in with them, regardless of whether or not that was the right place for it to be. This version removes all the subtlety and intelligence of the book, and instead goes with a telling-not-showing approach. The film chooses to spoon-feed its audience with clunky narration and dialogue rather than let them decipher what’s going on for themselves, which could have been done just as easily.
The Giver is, ultimately, a forgettable movie. There’s a part of me that really would like to have seen this movie made 15 years ago, when it might have had a chance for some artistic interpretation. Heck, there are even directors working right now, like Alfonso Cuaron, Rian Johnson, or even the Wachowski siblings, who are making ambitious, smart sci-fi films of the caliber that The Giver could have been. It’s too bad the studios decided to go with the quickest, easiest route to getting the film made, instead of allowing it to be all that it could have been.