The Giver – Film Review – 2014 – Film Dispenser

Film August 17, 2014 Scott Phillips
Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every Fall.

The Giver, the novel by Lois Lowry was published in 1993. It sold over ten million copies and won the Newbury Medal in 1994. Lowry was the queen of dystopian fiction long before it became a 21st century cliché. So, it’s ironic that The Giver arrives on the big screen in the large wake of the Hunger Games films and the smaller ripples of Divergent from just a few months ago. A fresh idea that was brilliantly executed on paper in 1993 looks a little tired and familiar in theaters twenty years later.

Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) lives in what appears to be a utopia. Everyone is equal and lives in bland harmony with one another. All the houses are the same. Clothing is similar. Transportation is an identical bicycle distributed to citizens when they reach the age of nine to celebrate the midpoint of their journey to the age of accountability. Jonas lives in The Community far away from The Boundary and is curious about a region called The Elsewhere. (Yes, it appears John Grisham was in charge of naming all of the geography in this fictional universe.)

Upon reaching the age of 18, all of the children in The Community are assigned a profession, and when that fateful day arrives, Jonas is designated the Receiver of Memories for his generation. Learning under the tutelage of The Giver (Jeff Bridges), Jonas will learn the painful past that preceded this utopian society. He will carry the burden of his knowledge without revealing any of this history to his peers or family. Jonas will become a member of an advisory counsel that helps government leadership avoid the mistakes of the past.

Unfortunately, this is the point where The Giver begins to engage in all of the plot beats that other films have stolen from the original novel over the years. While this utopian society is safe and free of crime, it is also devoid of any spirituality, passion or love. This begs the nearly ubiquitous question: How high of a price are we willing to pay for security? There are government bigwigs who know “the truth” and actively conspire to withhold the information from the public and control the population. And Jonas is the “Special One” who can see the truth and bring change to The Community.

Given that every Young Adult dystopian series seems to merit a trilogy, and in the case of the Hunger Games, four motion pictures, it’s ironic that one of the primary flaws in The Giver is pacing. For a rich fictional universe with such potential, the 100-minute running time crams in so much plot there is little room for character development. The events feel so cursory there is no real emotional investment in the outcome. And the grand finale is embarrassingly simple-minded and nonsensical.

It’s hard to find an interesting performance in a film based on a bland homogenous society. Alexander Skarsgard and Katie Holmes are horrifically boring, but that may actually be the point. In the novel, Jonas was only eleven-years-old, but the teen audience requires eye candy, so we get Brendon Thwaites with his Abercrombie & Fitch good looks and minimal acting chops. And Jeff Bridges gives us his newest variation on Rooster Cogburn (True Grit) that he’s been churning out for awhile now. Does anyone remember the days when he didn’t sound like he was saying his lines through a half-chewed piece of steak?

In a world where a family of four drops over fifty bucks just for tickets to a movie, The Giver isn’t worth a first-run viewing. It’s the kind of film you’ll watch on Netflix Instant six months from now and say, “That wasn’t so bad.” But you’ll also forget it by the time you go to bed that night.

Scott Phillips

The Movie Isle

Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.

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