Film review: The Giver

Best off giving these humdrum games a miss

Dir: Phillip Noyce; US sci-fi, 2014, 97 mins; Brenton Thwaites, Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Alexander Skarsgård, Katie Holmes

Premiered april 16
Playing nationwide

In the studio scramble to fill a gaping tweeny void left by The Hunger Games, the Weinstein Company has stepped to the fore with The Giver, the first of a proposed franchise based on a popular quartet of novels by American writer Lois Lowry. Directed by Phillip Noyce (Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger) with a cast boasting Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges, The Giver would appear to have some advantages over the competition.

Must make him the taker …
Crafting her post-apocalyptic utopia, Lowry borrowed heavily from Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and, like The Hunger Games, its protagonist is a teenager at odds with their environment. Jonas (Thwaites) is a young man who, having come of age, is ready to be assigned his life role within this heavily monitored, genetically-engineered future society at a ceremony led by the Chief Elder (Streep).

Watching all his friends receive their posts, he worries he’s been overlooked – until finally he is awarded the most revered and mysterious station in their community, the Receiver of Memories. It will be his responsibility to carry the memories of all mankind, including those from before ‘The Fall’, and with this unique perspective he will use that collective wisdom to advise the elders on their ruling policies.

The current Receiver (Bridges) then becomes ‘The Giver’ (forgive my adolescent snigger) in order to pass the memories on to Jonas. This is a long, arduous process that has previously ended in catastrophe. Jonas will not only discover the joys of those who lived in a time before this totalitarian ‘utopia’, but also the dark horrors that have lurked in men’s hearts – horrors long since eradicated by means of genetic selection and mental pre-conditioning. As Jonas becomes more enlightened, the flaws in his community become ever more apparent …

Complete lack of credibility
From 1984 to Logan’s Run, the premise is familiar from countless films and novels: an enclosed community denied the fundamental freedoms of choice and expression while certain knowledge is withheld as a means of maintaining order. The Book of Genesis is also heavily referenced – Noyce flaunts impossibly rosy-red apples as symbols of knowledge at every given opportunity.

While the novel may have been derivative but well-intentioned, the film has been executed far too clumsily to be enjoyed. The rules by which the community is maintained are frequently contradicted and the film’s integrity suffers greatly from plot holes and a lack of credibility.

Aimed at boy band fans
Towards the end, Jonas abducts a baby infant. He carries the baby for days outside the community, over glaciers, into wild water rapids and through a desert. Yet he has no milk nor nappies. The lack of credibility is frustrating – and laughable.

A different script adapted from the same material, and a director attuned to blending the sci-fi sensibilities of Tarkovsky’s Solaris with Andrew Niccols’ Gattaca may have been able to pull this off. Instead, The Giver adheres more to the sensibilities of a children’s live-action Disney from the ‘80s, populated by shiny plastic faces that resemble a teenage pop troupe.

If The Hunger Games had one great asset, that was its star: Jennifer Lawrence, a gifted actress with gravitas, attractive yet accessible. Though it’s little fault of his own, Thwaites smacks of a Justin Bieber robo-clone – and it doesn’t help that Taylor Swift pops up in a cameo.