Behold the Vulcan Mind Meld.
Teen dystopias are as hot as can be at the cineplex these days, as demonstrated by the massive popularity of the Twilight and Hunger Games franchises. The Giver certainly fits into the trend, but it's no latecomer to the party. The material on which it's based, Lois Lowry's Newbery Award-winning young-adult novel, has been celebrated and reviled since its release in 1993. Required reading for some middle-schoolers, it's also on the banned-books list in certain school districts. In short, the drama surrounding the novel is enough to draw some folks to the theater.
Co-producer Jeff Bridges tried to mount a film adaptation for many years but claims he faced stubborn opposition until recently. Though the original plan was for his father, Lloyd Bridges, to play the title role, the Dude now plays that part himself. There's lots of other star power, too, in the form of Meryl Streep, Katie Holmes and even singer Taylor Swift, who gets a few lines to act.
The society The Giver depicts is a manmade invention born of good intentions. Following a horrific event called the Ruin, humankind chose to achieve contentment through bland conformity, an absence of color and daily injections of an emotion squelcher. All distant memories have been erased, with one exception: A single soul chosen by the all-seeing Council of Elders holds all recollections of the past, from knowledge of civilization's accomplishments to the traumas of war. This person is known as the Receiver of Memory, except when he's training another person to assume the role. At that point, he becomes the Giver.
As The Giver opens, a teen named Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) has been selected to become the new Receiver. The early portion of the movie is filmed in high-contrast black-and-white. As Jonas receives more knowledge and stops taking his daily injection, muted colors begin to enter the frame, somewhat in the manner of Pleasantville. Even before he's chosen for the Receiver role, Jonas suspects he's different from the other kids. One hint is that he suddenly sees the hair color of a girl he's fond of (Odeya Rush). Jonas' training consists of some kind of Vulcan Mind Meld with the Giver, during which the two race through history with flash cuts to random imagery and events. Seeing the past forces Jonas to experience it as well.
The film begins to get lost as it pushes toward a wobbly climax. It's also hard to know what to make of the first bit of knowledge Jonas receives, an image of a sled that figures into the film's conclusion. But debating what it means is part of the journey for the audience.