After several weeks of reading rave reviews (from sneak previews) for the movie The Giver, which opened to mass audiences Friday night, I rushed out to see it at the first opportunity. Conservatives especially had been going gaga over the film, which was made by the wonderful Walden Media (the Narnia movies, Bridge to Terabithia, etc.). With so many on the right urging people to see it, I half expected to experience the Rapture in its wake.
Please forgive me, then, for tempering expectations. The movie’s message is wonderful, and its sentiments are very good, and its female lead, Odeya Rush, is quite winsome. (Note: Meryl Streep, Katie Holmes, and the underused Taylor Swift get higher billing, because they are more well known, but among the female characters, Rush is the movie’s emotional center and the scene stealer. As for the male leads, including the immensely gifted Jeff Bridges, all the performances struck me as rather anodyne.) Alas, though, as entertainment, The Giver is merely good, not great. It’s all just a little too saccharine, a little too predictable, a little too earnest, a little too prone to treat its central insights as profound and revelatory (when, indeed, some of them border on clichéd), and a little too lacking in internal logic. It is absolutely a film for older children (maybe ages 10–17), because its values are right, its production values excellent, and its story is somewhat engrossing (and probably more than somewhat so for, say, 13-year-olds). Yet both my wife and I found it at least somewhat lacking in depth and, well, subtlety — not to mention, toward the end, in narrative sense.
(Just to make sure I wasn’t being too curmudgeonly, I searched online just now for any other professional review I could find. The first one I found came from Marjorie Baumgarten of the Austin Chronicle. Now I don’t feel so lonely. She writes: “The film begins to get a bit lost as the story develops and pushes toward a wobbly climax and conclusion.”)
Please look elsewhere for a more formal review and plot summary; suffice it to say here that the movie involves a future land where “the elders” have engineered a culture of sameness, backed by daily injections of mood-leveling pharmaceuticals. Of course, the film’s heroes want to rebel and find bright colors (literally) amidst the black and white and gray of their existence, and they want to express individuality and feel real feelings. How all that is to happen is something you’ll need to see for yourself — and again, this is absolutely not a bad or even mediocre film; it’s a decent way to spend two hours. But there’s really nothing new here, thematically or otherwise. All that was missing was the soundtrack cueing up Bruce Springsteen singing he wants to know if love is wild and wants to know if love is real. (Actually, here it’s not so wild, but pretty tame and entirely chaste, which is a good thing in comparison to Hollywood’s usual bent toward gratuitous flesh.)
I don’t want to discourage people from seeing this movie. It’s pretty good, and a lot better than most of the dreck that comes from Hollywood. And if a church junior-high youth-group counselor is looking for a good change-of-pace outing for his young charges, The Giver more than fills the bill. But, except in its freedom-affirming and life-affirming messages, it’s far from a classic; it’s just pleasant, which these days can be reward enough.