Nothing in The Giver makes much sense at all.
Let’s start with the general premise. In an undated time period in the distant future, the world as we know it has been subject to a bland existence. Class doesn’t exist anymore. Jobs are assigned upon a persons graduation from childhood. Competition? Out the window. Citizens take pills that neutralize their emotions. Children are birthed by surrogate mothers, and then given to an already-assembled “family unit.” Nobody questions anything, nobody lies, and everybody is required to speak “precisely,” though for some reason sarcasm isn’t an issue. Even race is abolished–surprise surprise, everyone in this community is white.
Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) is different, though. He sees things in a contrasting light, and quite literally. Every now and then, he notices that his friend Fiona (Odeya Rush) has red hair. This shouldn’t be a big deal–unless, of course, you factor in the fact that everyone else experiences the world in black and white.
Yes, you read that correctly. Somehow, the powers that be have managed to abolish color, and half of The Giver is filtered in black and white because that’s how the citizens of this community see their reality. The notion of metaphor is completely lost, taking away any chance director Phillip Noyce had at providing an artistic statement with it.
Anyway, back to Jonas. In typical YA tradition, he’s special–the “chosen” one–so naturally he’s been assigned to an unusually important position, the “Receiver of Memories.” Job description is in the title–he literally has to hold on to memories of the past, because, uh, somebody has to, right? The Yoda figure, known only as “The Giver” (Jeff Bridges), provides these so-called memories to Jonas through unknown science (AKA hoodoo magic), Jonas decides that he likes the past better, and goes on a mission to stop the so-called madness of blandness.
In this obviously dystopian future, some pigs have to be more equal than others, so the antagonist delegation is given to “the Elders,” headed by Meryl Streep. They don’t like the fact that Jonas is challenging the status quo, so they do what any self-respecting group of oligarchists would–they try to stop him.
The film refers to this reality as “sameness.” I call it implausible. It’s also extremely paranoid, practically defining the way McCarthy supporters in the 1950s used to think about the apex of communism–the kind of propagandist trite corporate lobbyists have been pushing since the dawn of critical thought. Treat everyone the same, let evil government bodies take control of what’s considered fair and just, and the world is bound to become a colorless mess of repressed humanity, right?
This doesn’t have to be an issue. Speculation–the very notion of “what if”–is a great way to tell a story. Let’s forget the fact that The Giver is an empty shell, both morally and stylistically. Even if we take the shaky premise at face value–a challenge in of itself–the film still manages be be a complete failure thanks to incredibly poor pacing. The first three quarters of this film is pure setup, and it drizzles across the screen with all the finesse of molasses dripping down a brick wall. When we finally do get to the climax, it’s rushed to the point of blatant exposition. There’s a lot of telling us what’s going on, and very little showing.
The Giver ends by simply stopping, giving the audience zero resolve and avoiding any implications of our hero’s actions. This was an intentional choice. The source material, a children’s book by Lois Lowry, has four installments, so the filmmakers were undoubtably hoping for franchise ala The Hunger Games, a series the film version of The Giver so desperately wishes it could be. It’s not even close to being in the same category.
As I left the theater, I overheard a group of teenagers complaining about The Giver. One of them asked, “What was the point of this movie?” “Uh, freedom?” replied another. “I dunno.”
Glad I’m not the only one.