Earlier this year, the dystopian teen drama Divergent was the target of critical disapproval over its apparent illogical setting—a future city whose social rules seemed counterproductive and unsustainable. That movie looks like a work of hard documentary realism in comparison with The Giver, a film so totally bereft of rational thought that it borders on complete abstraction.
It’s a shame, because there are some intriguing, if hardly original ideas here. The story unfolds within the boundary of the Communities, a white-bread world where humanity is so completely controlled—by drugs, by the haughty, remote Elders, and by a mysterious, never-explained electrical field—that individual morality, emotion and even the ability to see colors are all a thing of the past. It’s only when he’s chosen to be his community’s next Receiver of History—this society’s only link with the troubled past—that our teenage hero Jonas (forgettable newcomer Brenton Thwaites) is given an insight into exactly how much his people have lost.
How Lois Lowry’s popular but largely forgotten 1994 novel ever became a candidate for the big-screen treatment (let alone how it managed to lure major stars like Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep, both of whom look alternately bored and perplexed) is hard to explain. But as mysteries go, this one pales beside the question of what the hell is actually happening onscreen. As Thwaites pouts and mopes, as Bridges and Streep reel off pages of exposition, and the glacially paced story throws in sci-fi tropes seemingly at random, it becomes completely impossible to know what’s going on, and even harder to care.