The Giver (United States, 2014)
Directed by Phillip Noyce

There were a couple of seconds in this prepubescently earnest dystopian sci-fi fantasy that I thought maybe the director had the formal discipline to show what he was thinking instead of beating us over the head with it. I enjoyed the initial gradual shifts from b&w to color, despite the obviousness of the metaphor, and despite the equally obvious allusions to Pleasantville, a much better movie, and maybe to the Wizard Of Oz. There were also a handful of unintentionally humorous bits, the funniest of these being Jeff Bridges’ character, who’s called The Giver, telling a handsome teenage boy, who’s called The Receiver, that he loves him, with not a shred of sincerity. I also got a kick out of the weird, low-angle shots of formerly Scientological Katie Holmes’ drooping features as she plays a Stepford Wife to Alexander Skarsgård’s simple-minded husband.

But the lack of sincerity seems to be the point in movies like these, because unlike most great written sci-fi, this movie isn’t the least bit interested in the present. Vietnam is as recent in American memory, searching for atrocities, as this movie is wiling to go. And so when it comes time to defend freedom and art, nobody really knows what to say. Apparently shots of humans dancing around and babies smiling is enough. Too much Terrence Malick, maybe?

The scene where Meryl Streep, looking kind of like Saruman, and Jeff Bridges, talking like a stroke victim, face off over the good or evil of allowing human free will reminded me of a similar debate between leaders in the Catholic Church and a bunch of atheists, led by Christopher HItchens. Was the Church a force for good in the world? The Catholic hierarchy didn’t seem to know, and relied on tautologies and aphorisms to defend itself. It was embarrassing, even if you hate the Church.

In the Giver, the eponymous title character is just as clueless and Meryl Streep as the Elder cleans his clock. But our young hero still makes it to the edge of the forbidden zone and color is restored to the world, although the fate of sexuality and adulthood itself seem to be still up in the air. After he rides Rosebud through the snowy wood, there is waiting for him a cozy cabin strung with Christmas lights. Don’t ask me. I haven’t a clue either.

This is one of the dumbest films to come out of Hollywood in a long, long time. But I could be wrong; maybe this is a some sort of anti-masterpiece.