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Aug. 18, 2014

"The Giver" of nothing new

by Maximillian Foley-Keene, Online Editor-in-Chief

The Giver

(released August 15, 2014)
"The Giver" is another in a long line of dull post-apocalyptic dystopian movies Courtesy of The Huffington Post
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"The Giver" is another in a long line of dull post-apocalyptic dystopian movies

Apart from traditional criteria such as plot, acting and cinematography, the timing of a movie's release in the wider industry and cultural climate has an impact on how it's judged. Some movies seem to come out at the perfect time, striking a chord with the emotions and experiences of the audience. Other movies come out following the release of a litany of similar films, seeming unoriginal and boring. "The Giver" is that second kind of movie. The movie adaptation of Lois Lowry's classic young adult novel is graced with a beautiful artistic vision and a talented acting corps, but the sameness of yet another spunky, dystopian film with adolescent stars is dull and evokes nothing more than a yawn or an eye roll.

"The Giver" is set in a typical post-apocalyptic dystopian backdrop of a conformist society that rejects emotion, love or music in favor of a community built on "Sameness". All aspects of daily life are controlled by the "elders" of the community, including whom one marries and where one works. The protagonist, Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) is the typical confused teenager who isn't sure if he fits in. In a community ceremony in which young people find out their profession, Jonas learns that he will be the new "Receiver of Memories."

Jonas goes to the home of the current Receiver of Memories (Jeff Bridges) who explains to Jonas that the elders assign one person to hold memories of the times before "Sameness." Jonas begins receiving the memories from the current Receiver, who is now called the Giver, discovering the beauty of emotions and color. His world, which has remained in black and white for the duration of the film, begins to have color. Of course, freedom of choice has consequences as well, which Jonas learns after seeing a memory of war. After seeing his father (Alexander Skarsgård) commit a horrific act, Jonas decides that he needs to bring memories back to his community and embarks on a dangerous adventure to do so.

In many ways, the novel "The Giver" is the godmother to all of the young adult dystopian books and films that have become hugely successful over the past few years. It precedes "The Hunger Games" and "Divergent" but has the disservice of its translation for the big screen occurring after those films. Sadly, this renders the plot dull and uncreative to the viewer. For those who haven't read the book, the film is utterly predictable, like the mind-numbing lectures given by community leaders on how emotions lead to conflict. Much of the stilted dialogue prompts an eye roll and a "we get it already!" For those who have read the book, "The Giver" skims over Jonas' time receiving memories, replacing the long, beautiful chapters of discovery with quick montages of ethnically diverse happy people.

However, in other ways, the film shines. It is strikingly beautiful as color starts to seep into Jonas' world. The first half hour of the film is in black and white, but the memories Jonas receives are shot in color. In one stunning moment, we see a memory of a gorgeous sunset that perfectly contrasts with the mundane greyness of Jonas' community. As Jonas begins to receive the memories, he slowly begins to see color in his own world. The subtleness of this change is so careful that viewers will hardly notice it's happening until color fills the world.

The community Jonas lives in is also perfectly conceived, in a layout that harkens back to a 50s suburbs and Soviet Russia. The set is symmetrically beautiful, with trees lined up perfectly and identical houses in a row, but also has a major creepiness factor.
Brenton Thwaites stars as protagonist Jonas, whose world is in black and white before he receives the memories Courtesy of Entertainment Weekly
Brenton Thwaites stars as protagonist Jonas, whose world is in black and white before he receives the memories

In addition, the acting is quite good. Thwaites puts on a great performance, perfectly encompassing the adolescent angst that characterizes the young adult genre. Although Jeff Bridges sounds like a combination of Batman villain Bane and Darth Vader, his moments of intimacy with Jonas are heartwarming and well-acted. Meryl Streep plays the Chief Elder of Jonas' community with such evil ickiness that she evokes true hatred from the audience. Plus, Taylor Swift, who plays The Receiver of Memories' daughter, has a strong, if simple, performance.

"The Giver" is cursed by its lateness to the silver screen. However, strong acting and beautiful cinematography prevents the film from being a complete waste of time.


“The Giver” is rated PG-13 for a mature thematic image and some sci-fi action/violence. It is now playing in theaters everywhere




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