Sometimes a good movie is in the wrong place at the wrong time. So it is with “The Giver.” Jeff Bridges, who plays the title role, had actually been trying to make a movie out of the beloved and controversial children's book for nearly twenty years. Now the environment is welcoming enough for it to happen, but it doesn't necessarily follow that a good movie will be the result. After all, the conditions that make audiences receptive almost guarantee that the resulting film won't live up to the source material.
Because while dystopian YA fiction is all the rage, “The Giver” was published in 1993, far before today's tropes became so embedded and uniform. This means that the genre's present staples will naturally be inserted in order to make the film a success, which didn't have to be a bad thing. Some changes are to be expected, due to the rapid changes in technology since the book's publication, and to make the material a bit more cinematic. But what was supposed to make for a good time at the movies actually makes for a dumber one, since the result is virtually indistinguishable from any other dystopian fare made in the last five years.
When “The Giver” begins in this particular dystopia, everything seems pretty great, until our hero, Jonas (Brenton Thwaites of “Oculus” and “Maleficent”) discovers it's not so great. In this world, people have divided into communities, where they embrace the principle of “sameness,” which pretty much works out like it sounds. Everyone has the same possessions, the same house, and things like race, religion, money, starvation, pain, and war are a thing of the past. However, people have also lost the ability to feel emotions such as love, and everything, from their clothes, jobs, spouses, and which children they will have, is determined for them. Medicines keep strong emotions at bay, and most people have even lost their ability to see in color. No one remembers what life was like before the communities, save for The Giver, who carries all of the memories of what society used to be.
When Jonas is chosen to take his place, he begins to receive these memories and experience emotions, and must choose to either leave society the way it is, or shake things up. Is there ever any doubt? Well, not much. Jonas embraces the rules of his society, has some cute scenes with his best friend Asher (Cameron Monaghan) and love interest Fiona (Odeya Rush) and just as quickly rebels against them. There's not much to discuss, but there are some great memory montages. “The Giver” keeps some of the book's most controversial scenes, but the result feels like almost any other YA adaptation, skimming the surface without delving deep into the questions it raises. The result is another very adequate, but ultimately forgettable ninety minutes. Such a great staple of children's literature deserves better.