If the contemporary cinematic landscape is any indication, the heads of young adults these days are filled with dystopian fantasies. Next up on the carousel is The Giver, a post-apocalyptic allegory that seems to fit in with its competitors more than it stands out.
That’s kind of ironic for this story of conformity and oppression, adapted from a 1993 novel by Lois Lowry that was written well before recent hits such as The Hunger Games and Divergent.
The story follows Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), a teenager growing up in a utopian society in which everyone has been stripped of their emotions and memories, leading to an absence of conflict and suffering. The totalitarian regime assures that everyone’s moods are kept docile and schedules are highly regimented.
Because of his intelligence, Jonas is selected by the Chief Elder (Meryl Streep) to be a “receiver” of unpleasant real-world memories that — for some reason — need to be preserved but hidden from the general populace.
So he falls under the tutelage of The Giver (Jeff Bridges), who transfers his knowledge to the youngster and allows him to uncover a dark secret about the Orwellian nature of his existence. Soon after, Jonas and friend Fiona (Odeya Rush) hatch a dangerous plan for escape and eventual exposure.
The film presents an intriguing futuristic concept, and teenagers might be able to identify with the precocious protagonist, whose mix of curiosity and skepticism turn him into an unlikely hero for his generation. Initially, Jonas just wants to use his gift to impress a girl, but soon realizes he is capable of much more.
Thwaites (Maleficent) brings charisma to his portrayal, even if he struggles with the consistency of his accent. As expected, Bridges and Streep lend prestige to the project in supporting roles, with Bridges in particular embracing his role as a wise sage who dispenses pearls of wisdom and isn’t afraid to challenge the system.
Veteran director Phillip Noyce (Salt) mixes black-and-white with washed-out colors in his visual approach. The screenplay is deliberately paced and introspective, and not packed with big action scenes.
The result is muddled and heavy-handed, and not as powerful as intended, but at least it’s intellectually ambitious, both for newcomers to the material and for its legions of fans who will crave for the launching of another franchise.