This image released by The Weinstein Company shows Jeff Bridges, left, and Brenton Thwaites in a scene from "The Giver." (AP Photo/ The Weinstein Company)

This image released by The Weinstein Company shows Jeff Bridges, left, and Brenton Thwaites in a scene from "The Giver." (AP Photo/ The Weinstein Company)

Memories color true horrors in perfect society

“The Giver”

The Weinstein Company

1 hour 37 minutes

In a world where every new Young Adult novel is inspiring not just a series of its own, but a trilogy of big budget films, it was probably inevitable that they would eventually get around to “The Giver,” a relatively thin novel by Lois Lowry from 1993 that has been a staple of middle school English classes since it came out. Twenty years on, it’s easy to see where newer tales, particularly the “Divergent” series, gets many of their ideas. With so many of these stories out there, though, we’re seeing a kind of YA malaise – “Divergent” didn’t do nearly as well as expected, and other hopefuls such as the southern gothic “Beautiful Creatures” and epic fantasy series “The Mortal Instruments” and “Percy Jackson” have all fizzled mightily at the box office. I wasn’t expecting all that much from “The Giver,” with that in mind, but I was pleasantly surprised, at least for a little while.

“The Giver” is set in a far-flung future, long after the world has experienced some terrible, self-inflicted catastrophe. In response, “The Community” has been set up where there is nothing aberrant, nothing different at all. There is no color, but there is also no pain, no hate, no anger, no fear – it’s a perfect utopia, which in literary terms means that there is a perfect dystopia hiding just underneath. Jonas, in the film a boy of probably eighteen, though in the novel one of eleven, has been selected to be the Community’s next “Receiver of Memory” – basically the person tasked with knowing all the awful stuff about the past so that no one else has to. But what Jonas comes to realize, under the tutelage of the previous Receiver (Jeff Bridges), now known as the Giver, is that the past had lots of good in it, including joy, compassion, generosity, and love. As his training progresses, Jonas begins to see things in ways that he never had before, most importantly his former best gal pal, Fiona. But as our hero begins to get closer to not only Fiona, but also to an unwanted baby that his family is caring for, his newfound awareness begins to alert the suspicions of the Chief Elder, played with a measured menace by Meryl Streep. Things come to a head, but just when things seem darkest, the Giver reveals a plan that just might save them all.

The first half of “The Giver” is surprisingly good. Young Brenton Thwaites does a good job as Jonas, and I was taken in by the love story between he and Fiona, despite the fact that it’s a complete departure from the book. Director Philip Noyce, better known for gritty political actioners like the Harrison Ford Jack Ryan duo “Patriot Games” and “Clear and Present Danger,” wisely decides to display much of the film in a kind of grayish sepia tone that describes members of the Community’s world view. Much as happens in the, frankly, better film “Pleasantville,” when the color finally begins to appear, the impact is effective. Thwaites’ chemistry with Bridges, again chewing his dialogue in a bizarre accent, is very good and the simple story takes its time to gradually reveal the true horrors going on in this supposedly perfect society.

Unfortunately, as the action begins to ramp up, so does the tempo, and the second half of the film feels as if it’s just rocketing by. The subtlety and careful character development are cast aside and much of the final portion of the story is shown almost in montage format. It really felt less like the second half of the movie as it did a quick-cut teaser reel of the next one – kind of like a “Next time on ‘The Giver!’” promo. When the film finally comes to its climax, most of my buy-in was squandered and what should be a very emotional encounter is merely blah. The final scenes of the film, ambiguous in the novel, are just confusing here and pretty much drained the last of my enthusiasm. The film shifts so dramatically that I wonder if there was some kind of studio intrusion. The film is short, barely over an hour-and-a-half, and could easily have benefited from another twenty minutes or so, if not more. It’s disappointing that this classic adaptation could start so strong and end so poorly. I know Jeff Bridges, a big proponent of literacy, was instrumental in getting this film made. Maybe what he had to give just wasn’t enough. Grade: C

 

“The Giver” is rated PG-13 for mature themes and brief scenes of violence.

 

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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