“The Giver” was ahead of its time as a book. But as a movie, it’s too late.
Published in 1993, Lois Lowry’s young-adult novel was a deeply felt, kid-centered dystopian fantasy. Its world of children learning what their “perfect” society had lost was both archetypal yet new.
But on screen, 21 years later, “The Giver” will feel too familiar after two editions of “The Hunger Games,” as well as “Ender’s Game” and “Divergent” — plus “The Maze Runner” and the third “Hunger Games” coming later this year.
As a result, “The Giver” is a bland also-ran in a world it helped create.
The story is set in our distant future. To avoid war, humans built solitary communities that follow restrictive but polite rules. “Sameness” is crucial (art, love and animals are not).
“Parental units” can apply for one boy and one girl. At 18, after being watched their whole lives by omnipresent elders and their leader (Meryl Streep), kids are assigned a job for life. (The elderly have an annual ceremony of being “released to Elsewhere,” a euphemism for death.)
Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) is chosen to be the community’s new Receiver — the one person allowed to have books, and the person designated to receive all the memories of what the world was like before the antiseptic civility. To learn it, Jonas becomes the apprentice to the Giver (Jeff Bridges), the elder who possesses all the world’s collective memories. Jonas is chosen because he sees things differently, like the red hair of Fiona (Odeya Rush), a girl he likes.