George Orwell’s “1984,” Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451,” Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World,” Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games” — all visions in print and on film of societies more dystopian than utopian.
Lois Lowry’s 1993 novel, “The Giver,” is another example. A pet project of Oscar-winning actor Jeff Bridges, “The Giver” on paper looks like it would fly. Lowry’s book sold 12 million copies. In 1994, it won the Newbery Medal, the American Library Association’s award for the most distinguished writing for children.
“The Giver” also has an impressive cast, including Bridges as the Receiver of Memories. Oscar winner Meryl Streep co-stars as the community’s Chief Elder. Katie Holmes and Alexander Skarsgård (“True Blood”) convincingly inhabit their roles as parents of the young man designated as the next Receiver of Memories.
“The Giver” obviously is sincere and well-intentioned. It’s also unaware of how goofy and clichéd it is. Dystopian themes have been so thoroughly explored before. “The Giver” brings nothing special to the table.
The movie’s production values don’t meet major Hollywood studio standards. The plateau community in the clouds depicted in “The Giver,” for instance, is so obviously a movie set.
The film’s special effects, including sketchy representations of human memories of the distant past, are embarrassingly cheap. Chase sequences are laughably short and lazy.
Australian actor Brenton Thwaites stars as Jonas, a new graduate of his community’s version of high school. In his highly restricted society of the future, people’s occupations are decided for them. Jonas is chosen for the important position of Receiver of Memories. He begins training with Bridges’ character, current holder of the position.
The gray, bearded Bridges plays the Receiver of Memories as a sort of lone college professor living on the edge of the community. The Receiver of Memories’ home is a small house that sits on the plateau’s surface atop a vast basement. It’s a library, a repository for ancient books stacked in a vast expanse of shelves.
But the Receiver of Memories doesn’t teach Jonas through books. Instead, they hold hands, making a telepathic connection.
Through this unexplained process, the Receiver of Memories lets Jonas see and experience the world of the past. It’s as if the young man actually is a 20th century American soldier fighting in a Vietnamese jungle or dancing at an 18th century wedding in a European village. The images are so bogus, though, that no one in the audience is likely to be transported anywhere.
Streep is suitably commanding as Chief Elder. Holmes, playing Mother, is a stern true believer in her society’s dictates. Skarsgård as Father is as meek as his “True Blood” vampire, Eric, is arrogant. But Bridges just looks befuddled as the Receiver of Memories.
All of which means “The Giver” does not deliver.