“The Giver” takes place in a world without memories.
If only audiences could enter that realm for 97 minutes so that the movie wouldn’t feel so very familiar in the wake of other young adult adaptations ranging from “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent” to “Ender’s Game” and next month’s “The Maze Runner.”
There are also echoes of everything from “Logan’s Run” to “The Lego Movie.” And, for a few terrifying moments, there’s the overwhelming sense of dread that the whole thing is about to take a Shyamalan-ian turn into a “The Village”-style reveal.
But you can’t really fault “The Giver” for feeling too much like other recent YA franchises, considering Lois Lowry’s novel debuted in 1993, a decade and a half before all of those except “Ender’s Game.”
It would be like knocking “American Idol” because you were a fan of “The X Factor.”
I mean, we all know there was no such thing as a fan of “The X Factor,” but you get the idea.
The Community is a serene, sterile place where race and religion have been abolished through a plan known as The Sameness. If there were differences, we’re told, citizens could become envious or angry.
Citizens all ride the same model of bicycle. They live in nearly identical cubist dwellings — not homes, mind you, because the word “home” has a deeper meaning, and The Community is all about using precise language.
“It is impolite to touch citizens outside your family unit,” a warning blares when citizens get too close. Another message, “Citizens are reminded that sleep period commences in 15 minutes,” is a nightly event.
Citizens receive an injection every morning to block their emotions.
The Community is so bland, all its citizens see the world in black and white.
It’s a lot to keep up with, and “The Giver” opens by hurling its rules at you in such a flurry, it feels as though there will be a pop quiz later.
Young Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) is worried he won’t fit into any of the occupations doled out during the Ceremony of Advancement, a public right of passage straight out of “Divergent.” Or, rather, the one in “Divergent” was straight out of “The Giver.”
And, indeed, Jonas is passed over while his best friends Asher (Cameron Monaghan) and Fiona (Odeya Rush) are respectively assigned to be a drone pilot and a nurturer, one of those caring souls, like Jonas’ father (Alexander Skarsgard), who looks after The Community’s babies from the time they’re delivered by birth mothers until they’re strong enough to be placed in a family unit.
Because Jonas possesses “all four attributes” — intelligence, integrity, courage and “the capacity to see beyond” — he’s chosen as the next Receiver of Memory.
Memories of anything before The Sameness have been erased, and only The Receiver carries them inside him in case he’s ever needed to council the Elders. These memories are eventually passed down from one Receiver, who becomes known as The Giver, to the next.
It’s here that “The Giver” wins the acting arms race kicked off by “The Hunger Games” with its casting of Donald Sutherland and, later, Philip Seymour Hoffman. “Divergent” countered with Kate Winslet. But “The Giver” stars Jeff Bridges in the title role and Meryl freakin’ Streep as the Chief Elder.
Each day, Jonas visits The Giver in his mausoleumlike library at the very edge of The Community, high above the clouds. During each session, using a process not unlike a Vulcan mind meld, Jonas experiences long-forgotten concepts and events. For the first time, he sees animals, dancing and colors. He has his first dream. He even learns about love, an idea so outdated, he’s scolded by his mother (Katie Holmes) for using imprecise language.
Even though it’s strictly forbidden, Jonas can’t keep these revelations to himself. He tries his best to share them with Asher and, especially, Fiona, which puts the domineering Chief Elder on notice.
When Jonas discovers something ghoulish at the heart of The Sameness, he sets out on a dangerous voyage to cross The Boundary of Memory so that all citizens will be able to share in his recollections.
Screenwriters Michael Mitnick and Robert B. Weide have made a few changes to Lowry’s novel, most notably making Jonas significantly older. And director Phillip Noyce (“Dead Calm”) has delivered a fantastic-looking movie that shifts from stark black and white to brilliant colors to all the grays in between.
Not surprisingly, the acting is first-rate, with the moments between Bridges’ Giver and Thwaites’ Receiver forming the heart of the movie.
Jonas’ climactic race to the border, though, feels rather perfunctory and elicits zero thrills.
“The Giver” has been a labor of love for Bridges, who’s been trying to get the movie made for the past 15 years.
Back then, before this current environment in which you can’t swing a bookish teenager without hitting the author of a dystopian young-adult thriller, “The Giver” would have been received (sorry) as something far more monumental.
But now, through no fault of its own, it feels like yet another victim of The Sameness.
— Christopher Lawrence is an entertainment writer at the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Contact him at 702-380-4567.