Movie Reviews

'The Giver': Yet another young adult dystopia movie

By Anjali RaguramanMovies - 21 August 2014 8:00 AM

'The Giver': Yet another young adult dystopia movie

Our Rating

2/5 Stars

While there have been a host of teen-centric young adult novels that have served as fodder for successful or otherwise Hollywood adaptations (‘The Hunger Games’, ‘Divergent’, ‘Twilight’, ‘Harry Potter’, to name a few), you can’t help feeling that a dead horse is being flogged here.

Case in point: ‘The Giver’.

Based on a children’s novel from 1993 by American author Lois Lowry, the book predates the current crop of book-to-film adaptations. Similar to other dystopian novels though, the plot showcases a society where pain and strife are removed, and individual personalities are suppressed to subscribe to “sameness”, all achieved by limiting language to a prosaic minimum and eradicating emotions.

The movie begins in stark black-and-white, and the humans don’t have the freedom to choose: they have no surnames, the habitat is climate controlled, and “Elders” choose your spouse, children and job for you. 


On the day that all 16-year-olds are due to receive their jobs or “assignments in the community”, Jonas (dashing Australian newcomer Brenton Thwaites) is selected for the sole position of “receiver of memory”, or the person who stores memories from the past, before “sameness” was established. This one person with the knowledege of what life used to be like is there in case the Elders need to consult him/her for advice.

But all this while, Jonas has never felt like he fit in.

Under his mentor, The Giver (Jeff Bridges), Jonas receives memories of things he has never experienced and expands his depth of human emotions. He finally understands joy and happiness, experiences snow for the first time, sees a rainbow, hears a tune being played on a piano. As Jonas receives more memories, he starts to see the world in colour, which harks aback to the 1998 movie ‘Pleasantville’ in terms of visual and narrative device.

However, he also receives far more sinister memories about war, despair and death.

Katie Holmes and Alexander Skarsgard play protagonist Jonas' mother and father

A flip switches in Jonas as he learns more about the "sins" of his society and the tipping point comes when he must decide if he can live with the burden of all this knowledge, and whether he should embark on a journey that will allow him to share it with the community.


This idea of a utopian world and its shortcomings was seen in ‘Divergent’, released just six months ago. However, as both movies have proven, this genre and its intricacies are best left handled by the inimitable ‘Hunger Games’ series.

'The Giver' has been given the inevitable Hollywood treatment, with a flimsy love story between Jonas and his childhood friend Fiona (Israeli actress Odeya Rush) thrown in, an overly romanticised plot point that is not in the novel.

The 90-minute movie struggles with pacing, punctuated by multiple stock footage and 20th century news clip montages as Jonas receives his memories. Director Phillip Noyce (the man behind the 2010 Angeline Jolie vehicle ‘Salt’) relies heavily on this visual motif and action scenes, but all subtlety is lost, with the movie feeling heavy-handed in the second half.

Even its well-known cast – Katie Holmes, Alexander Skarsgard, Meryl Streep and even Taylor Swift in a minor role – could not keep the show from floundering.

Not even a star draw in the form of Taylor Swift as Rosemary, the previous "receiver of memory", saves this movie 

For a movie whose subject matter is about opposing conformity, it does exactly the opposite and fits right into the dystopia-movie-marketed-at-young-adults mould.

'The Giver' opens in cinemas 21 August 2014

Movie Photos

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  • The Giver

  • Rated
    PG /
    Drama, Fantasy, Science Fiction
  • Language
  • (2 Reviews)