‘The Giver’ gets lost in shuffle of dystopian teen drama

by Trey Hock on August 15, 2014

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Minor Rock Fist Up]

In a society that lacks conflict or want, but is also devoid of joy or love, a group of teens questions the “perfect” nature of their community. In direct opposition to the leadership, and with the help of one or two sympathetic adults, this small band of adolescents, led by a precocious and thoughtful individual, who has never quite fit in the way society demanded, pushes against the accepted bonds until they break, bringing their oppressors to light and freeing everyone around them.

With only subtle modifications, this could be the description of numerous recent teen film releases. From the young adult fantasy series Twilight to the dystopian future of The Hunger Games, to plagiaristic Divergent or Stephenie Meyers’ creative auto-cannibalism of The Host, each could be described, to a large extent, by the above paragraph.

And so could this week’s release, The Giver.

This would not be unexpected or disconcerting, save for one unfortunate fact. The Giver, the beloved children’s lit novel by Lois Lowry, was published over a decade ahead of any of the works which inspired the previous list of films.

The Giver is the quiet insightful kid at the party, who says something hilarious under their breath, but within earshot of a louder more boisterous partygoer. The loud person shouts the hilarious observation, and gets all of the credit, leaving a stalwart few to mutter that, actually, someone else said it first.

In The Giver, Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) is our precocious teen leader. Because he is particularly empathetic, he has been selected to become the Keeper of Memories. In accordance with the laws of the community, only one person has any memories of previous incarnations of the civilization. This allows everyone to forget past transgressions and avoid grudges that could split the community.

Jonas must receive the collected memories from the current Keeper, The Giver (Jeff Bridges). Through these memories, Jonas becomes aware that in addition to pain and suffering, the community lead by the Chief Elder (Meryl Streep) also lacks for joy, passion and love. Jonas and the Giver decide to change everything and spread their memories and emotions to all in the community.

The Giver has been a passion project for over a decade for Jeff Bridges. He originally purchased the rights to adapt the novel for the screen so that his father, Lloyd Bridges, might play the titular role.

Had the film been made and released 10 years ago, it would have had more impact, but I’ve seen other films that have roughly the same storyline enough times to be unimpressed by this version.

That isn’t to say that this film is bad. It’s okay. Not great. Not terrible. Just okay.

For those who hold the novel dear, The Giver may be a long awaited visualization of a text you love. The film may even give credence to your gripes that Lois Lowry did it long before Suzanne Collins.

And you’re right, but while you grumble with self-satisfaction, everyone else at the party is laughing and slapping The Hunger Games on the back.

In addition to contributing to Scene-Stealers, Trey makes short films and teaches at the Kansas City Art Institute. Follow him here:

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