The Giver follows a long line of teen dystopian society films – Hunger Games, Ender’s Game, and Divergent to name a few. The basic storyline is that society functions without joy or pain, birth and death are not understood as such but rather rites of passage to ‘elsewhere.’
There is one person in the society – The Receiver – that holds all the memories of war and joy. As his time comes to a close, he must pass these memories on. So he becomes the Giver while the new person becomes the Receiver. As these stories tend to go, the struggle then exists between the Receiver who wants to give this knowledge to all of society and the Establishment who wants to protect society from it.
Not having read the books, I was fairly open-minded about the film plus I like this genre of film. Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep deliver top-shelf performances (we expected no less) and it’s these two characters you walk away from the film craving more of. It’s in these two characters we find the deeper issues really take shape.
When Streep and Bridges get into the conversation of whether free will is worth the hurt and pain that comes with it, it’s about 10 minutes of acting that every one should watch. Two opposite characters, holding their own putting the viewer in a sort of existential crisis.
The problem is this scene comes near the end of the movie and it’s not enough to offset the other 100 minutes of complete blandness. There isn’t this sense of dread or ongoing conflict hence there really isn’t any sense of drama or pace to the movie.
While I’m tempted to blame the young actors on drawing the audience in, I’m not sure that’s completely fair. The film utilizes the voice of the main character – Jonas – as its narrator. I get why some films use a narrator. It allows the film maker to get a lot of information to the audience without having to put it on film. It’s a quick way to give the film its voice. But the danger of using a narrator is that it pretty much diffuses all the drama out of the film because you know that your narrator ‘makes it out okay’ since he’s telling the story.
In this film, I don’t think it works. There are so many themes and issues this movie brings up – free will, destiny, joy, war, hope, emotion vs. rationalism – that completely get overlooked because the narrator is trying to get us through the events of the story instead of just inviting us into the story.
There just isn’t any drama or tension in the whole first act nor are the characters – at least in the way the film depicts them – deep enough to really tempt you to care about them. While I loved the performance of Bridges and Streep, it wasn’t enough to make the film interesting.