the giver is a study in “wait, what?”

Like a lot of mediocre movies, The Giver‘s problem is not so much in its fundamental conception but in its execution. I’ve been thinking about it since I saw it on Saturday, not so much because it’s special — it’s not — but because it’s middling in the way that so many movies are: It’s full of details that are confusingly counter-intuitive and character motivations and relationships that make little sense. Cumulatively, these small mistakes stop the better elements (like the strong performances of Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep) from adding up to anything greater.

So, as an exercise in examining the many ways that cinema narrative can be poorly handled, I will present my specific objections to The Giver in the form of rhetorical questions, for want of any better organizing principle. Frankly, this will be more satisfying if you’ve seen the movie, but don’t take that as a suggestion that you should.

In any event, I’m going to entirely spoil the movie, so beware.

What’s up with mom and dad being under 40?

It’s explained that families are artificially synthesized from the members of the community, so in theory it’s okay that the relative ages of Jonas’s family don’t make any sense.

That said, here’s the breakdown of the “family”: Jonas the character is turning 18 but is played by Brenton Thwaites, who’s in his early twenties. His “mother” is played by Katie Holmes, who’s 35 but could pass for 29, say. Result: Thwaites looks like he could be dating the woman he calls “mother.” Then there’s Alexander Skarsgard, who plays “father” but could pass for Jonas’s older brother.

Why do the same people that espouse emotionlessness as an ideal come across as so pissy?

Hat tip to my friend Yasser here: As in Equilibrium, The Giver‘s “utopia” is founded on the idea that emotion, generally, is the enemy. Unfortunately for the filmmakers, emotion is also the stuff of drama, with the result that Meryl Streep and Katie Holmes demand cold-blooded rationality from everyone with a look on their face that clearly says, “You are seriously pissing me off.”

Couldn’t the movie at least make an attempt to explain away the seeming contradiction of a totalitarian government that tries to stamp out “conflict,” or at least give us a scene where the protagonist points out the hypocrisy?

So you’re telling me that at the edge of the known world there’s a giant energy wall that can be pierced by a boy riding a sled, and, when so punctured, suddenly bursts into a literal wave of free-floating memories that attach themselves to people?

I don’t know how to ask that question more incredulously.

Also, why establish the existence and rough geographical location of a major monument (two enormous rocks making a sort of bridge) if its only purpose is as a kind of mile marker on the way to the significantly less visually interesting energy wall?

Wait, can Jeff Bridges pass memories and see the future?

Jonas is introduced to the memory transference process when the Giver (Jeff Bridges) imparts a vision of a riding a sled down a hill and reaching a cabin where people are singing Christmas songs.

Swell, so that’s a memory…right?

Maybe. The end of the movie shows Jonas discovering the actual sled and actually sliding to a real cabin where people are at present singing. If you’re going to give Jeff Bridges mystic “memory” powers but then make him psychic (he seemed to foretell the future) why not just say so? I could let this go in a movie that didn’t take so many liberties with logic or coherence, but coming at the end of the movie, this revelation is just another sign that the script on this one was undercooked.

How has the memory wall remained intact so long when it’s about as rugged as a pile of bubbles?

Speaking of those folks in the cabin, how is it that they live just a sled-ride away from the Enormous Yet Strangely Paper-Thin Memory Wall? If all it takes is someone literally walking through the energy field to unleash a torrent of memories on millions of people, mightn’t the cabin’s inhabitants inadvertently trigger this nostalgi-splosion on an afternoon walk through the woods? Do they ever wonder why there’s a gigantic barrier of colored light on their property? Was it put there through eminent domain, or are they being adequately compensated for the use of their land?

Burning questions, all.

What if Jonas hadn’t had that birthmark?

So Jonas has the same birthmark as the Giver – fine – and apparently the kid has the same ability to give and receive memories that goes along with the birthmark – also well and good. Did the council of old wise people just choose Jonas to be the Receiver of Memory because of this birthmark, even though it’s never actually mentioned? If the council had chosen Asher, for instance, would he just have been subjected to endless afternoons of Jeff Bridges droning on and on as he gave Asher an oral version of the visions he passes on to Jonas?

And doesn’t anybody find it odd/surprising/worth examining that Jeff Bridges can transmit memories through the power of tight forearm grasping?

Where are Jeff Bridges’ teeth?

In this utopia, don’t old people at least get dentures? It seemed to me that where they should have been, Bridges only had a black abyss. Or maybe he just never opened his mouth wide enough for us to see them.

So at least that’s one thing this movie did right: Made me yearn for the sight of The Dude’s frontsies.

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