Lois Lowry’s “The Giver” appears on most middle school required reading lists, so when the movie adaptation hit box offices Aug. 15, it immediately faced criticism.
I had my doubts when I first heard “The Giver” was being adapted into a film. The novel is a good read with compelling ideas about humanity at its heart. Director Phillip Noyce had a lot to live up to, and, sadly, he didn’t meet expectations.
“The Giver” starts by introducing Jonas, played by Brenton Thwaites, as the main character living in a literally black and white community.
The whole world has the ultra-modern Swedish furniture feel one would find in stores like Ikea, offering a striking lack of color. This gives the movie a strange quality that sets the tone for the film.
The world starts to take shape as Jonas interacts with his friends Fiona, played by Odeya Rush, and Asher, played by Cameron Monaghan. They use forced and childlike language, giving the impression of false perfection that reminds me of 1950s TV shows.
Soon after character introduction, the movie sets up the process of graduation in this utopia. A job is assigned to each of the students in Jonas’s class. Jonas is asked if he will accept the new Receiver of Memory apprenticeship.
Jonas is given and accepts a strange set of rules telling him he is allowed to lie, which is not allowed in his world, along with several other rules which make him able to deviate from the rules already put in place by the community.
He meets the Giver, played by Jeff Bridges, and starts his training. The Giver has all the memories of the human race, and it’s his job to give those memories to Jonas. He starts out with pleasant memories, such as sledding and a wedding.
At the same time, Jonas’s father, played by Alexander Skarsgard, brings home a sickly baby named Gabriel. Jonas and Gabriel start to bond. Up until this point, the movie was OK. The acting is lackluster from the main cast, but the plot makes sense for the most part and Bridges gives a beautiful performance as the Giver.
However, after a couple of weeks, Jonas tries to explain the lack of emotion in their world to his friends.
This is where the convoluted love plot starts to form. Romance sells, and even if the romance doesn’t make any sense, Hollywood demands it be there.
Jonas demands to get more painful memories and eventually the Giver relents, showing him the memory of an elephant being shot by poachers. He leaves in a hurry, wondering how people could be so awful.
Around this time, the Chief Council Member, played by Meryl Streep, starts to question Jonas about his training.
The movie is so excessively Hollywood driven after this point that it becomes ridiculous. The romance blooms, but because of the society’s rules his love interest Fiona can’t understand his love. The baby Jonas’s father had at home is now scheduled to be “released,” which Jonas understands means murder.
Jonas decides to leave town and take the baby with him. He rushes to the Nurturing Center, where the babies are held, with no plan except to get out. He runs into Fiona, who suddenly seems to understand love after skipping her emotion killing medication a grand total of once.
She aids in his escape, but is taken captive in the process. Lost in the desert, Jonas must fight for his and Gabriel’s lives, as well as find a way to break the boundary, releasing all the memories back into the world.
“The Giver” was a major disappointment to me both as a moviegoer and as a fan of the book.
The first 20 minutes were worth the watch, but after that the story becomes difficult to follow.
It tries too hard to push the Hollywood love story and action sequences that don’t work in the story’s context.
“The Giver” is rated PG-13 for a mature thematic image and some sci-fi action/violence and is playing in Conway’s Cinemark Theatres.