I skipped this in the theatres because it seemed so derivative and lame. It shows up on my movie channel and I read that it’s based on a “classic” 1993 book that’s taught in schools. Why, I’m not sure. The book must be a lot better than the movie!
The movie has a lot of potential: a decent cast, high production values, and some good direction, but it misses on several key levels.
The first is the poor explanation/presentation of the dystopian world we’re in; this is not shown very well, and since the whole point of the story is the contrast between the empty, meaningless, controlled world and a world with emotions and pain, the story fails. Sure, there is an excellent attempt to show this contrast by filming the earlier parts of the film in black and white and then showing color once our hero starts to see the real world for the first time, but that’s a metaphor, not a way to show us how this odd society actually functions.
The second and even bigger problem is the way our main character is shown to change. As he learns the truth about humanity’s past and his society, he’s changing, but that isn’t clear. For instance, he starts to get angry and act out, but since we never saw much of him before, or any of the regulated society, we don’t realize this is a huge shift. The film does this quite often: as a viewer we don’t understand the significance of what we’re watching until much later and by then it’s lost all emotional impact. I suppose if you’ve read the book it’s clear what is going on, but not just from watching the movie.
Another awkward problem is the way memories are shown. Supposedly our hero receives memories from the “Giver,” an old man who stores all of mankind’s memories. This happens throughout the film, but the presentation is lame: we just cut to whatever memory he’s experiencing. It’s jarring, awkward, confusing, and much too plain. At least give us some sort of transition in and out of the memory sequence.
There are lots of other problems, such as the story being dull without any action until the very end (and then it ends much too quickly and easily), and how our hero somehow instantly understanding concepts — like death, bullets, and cruelty — that should have been utterly foreign and incomprehensible to him, but we’ll just leave it at that.
None of this is to say the film isn’t watchable or interesting. It is confusing at first, and the pace is slow, but there is a little magic in the combination of cast and filming that makes this appealing. It’s not great, but it has its moments, and though the idea feels derivative, it has some clever aspects. I can see how if you liked the book you might enjoy the movie. Those of us who haven’t will need further encouragement.