Big Brother is alive and well in The Giver, a science-fiction fantasy with plenty to offer young audiences. Adults, too, might appreciate the democratic pleas for individuality and free thinking.
The surplus of themes originates with Lois Lowry’s hugely popular novel, still on best-seller charts. Scriptwriters Michael Mitnik and Robert Weide wrestle to coordinate the themes around a coherent plot that mostly avoids condescension or mawkishness.
Philip Noyce’s sage direction also deserves much credit. The conflicts and dramas could have become awkwardly transparent, but for the most part, remain serious and thoughtful, even if delivered through the unclouded eyes of youth.
The Giver takes place in a sterile future, vaguely reminiscent of other surreal, other-worldly films. The minimalist settings complement the heavy dose of computer-generated sets and settings.
In this future, everyone appears the same: near-robotic, with a loss of most human emotion. Love, family ties and memories of what happened before this society originated remain foreign concepts. Young people graduate from their childhood to take a position helping society, all led by their elders, with the bossy Chief Elder (Meryl Streep) most prominent among them.
In this often Kafkaesque world, Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) lands a seemingly plum job of becoming the community’s sole “Receiver,” meaning he alone will experience memories and learn history from The Giver, played by Jeff Bridges as if he were The Dude 20 years later.
Of course, this means Jonas will gain the knowledge that not all emotion is bad, and that the the world can be full of both good and evil. Noyce deftly mixes contemporary images to flood Jonas’ brain, a constantly changing amalgam that captures the zeitgeist of living today.
Noyce takes a chance that pays off when rendering Lowry’s vision, filming a large part of the story in black and white, sepia-toned hues. Only when Jonas experiences something magical, or dips into his conjured-memories, or leaves his cocoon-setting entirely, does the Oz-like color change take place.
Noyce restricts the puppy-love element somewhat, making the film surprisingly palatable to adults.
BOO ALLEN is an award-winning film critic who has worked for the Denton Record-Chronicle for more than 20 years. He lives in Dallas.
Rated PG-13, 94 minutes. Opens Friday.