In the Dark with Melanie Dishman: Another young-adult dystopian bummer? Give me a break
‘The Giver’Starring: Jeff Bridges, Brendan ThwaitesDirected by: Phillip NoyceRated: PG-13
Based on its immense popularity — over 10 million copies sold — I can only assume Lois Lowry’s book for young adults, first published in 1993, is an excellent read. Add in the Newberry Medal honor, and this is ripe for a movie treatment. What took so long is a mystery, although Jeff Bridges, who also stars in the movie, declares he’s been trying to convince studios for years this is great screen material.
I’m sorry to say that, no, it isn’t great, but it’s not a total write off either. The plethora of young-adult material hitting theaters recently may explain it. Everything from “Hunger Games” to “Divergent” bases its premise on a future world that doesn’t seem nearly as cool as what the Jetsons had. Where’s the space pad and Rosie the Robot? Everything is all gloom and doom with a depressing dystopian outlook.
Granted this one is a bit different, although just as spooky. The gloom and doom has passed into a totally submissive society where all emotions and societal ills have just been edited out of the equation with a daily dose of some happy pill all are required to take. Everyone wears the same clothes, lives in the same kind of cookie-cutter house and they all ride these weird white bikes — sort of a cross between a Schwinn cruiser and a velodrome racing bike. It’s all pretty uneventful and then you grow old and are conveniently shipped off to “Elsewhere,” a purposefully vague euphemism for something more permanent. Who are they kidding? No one returns from Elsewhere.
Jonas (Brendan Thwaites), the lead character, is a teenager about to graduate and learn his true calling as assigned to him by the Elders (led by Meryl Streep). While his best friends Asher (Cameron Monaghan) and Fiona (Odeya Rush) are given careers they desired, Jonas has been selected as the new Receiver of Memory, and told to report to the current Giver (Jeff Bridges), the sole keeper of memories and the only one who knows what came before this not so brave, new world.
The most interesting part of the film are the exchanges between these two characters and Jonas’s awakening, through psychic sessions with the Giver, to our messy history of war, famine, disease and all the rest of humanity’s miseries that have now been eradicated through design. It’s all painful and wonderful at the same time as director Phillip Noyce uses slam edited montages of images that are so familiar they seem gleaned from our current nightly news programs. It’s a crash course on the good, the bad and the ugly that mankind perpetrates on itself.
Jonas quickly learns that his world may be perfect but it exists without all of the things that inspire and awe human beings like animals (he marvels at the sight of a rhinoceros) or weather (he’s ever seen a rainbow) or even music (discovered in a much hyped scene with a character played by pop songstress Taylor Swift). And now he begins to question the universal lack of emotion and wonder that has been lost to all but the Giver.
Of course, his resulting insubordination brings the attention of the Elders, and the Head Elder resorts to some very draconian tactics to deal with Jonas that are all too very familiar in these kinds of movies. Farrah Fawcett had to answer for her curiosity as far back as “Logan’s Run” in 1976.
Even with a scant running time of an hour and a half, this seems too long — and boring. And its burdened with an ambiguous ending that doesn’t seem fitting to the story. Production values are nicely executed with sleek, modernistic sets and photography that illustrates the storyline as it moves from gray tones to color with the story’s progression.
The August premiere signaled this would be one of the weaker movies in a season when almost every movie seemed a little anemic. The next young-adult entry comes as early as next week with Chloe Grace Moretz in “If I Stay,” also geared for the teen audience.