So many bestselling Young Adult novels have been set in dreary dystopian worlds, after civilization lies in ruins. So I decided to ask my perfect teenage daughter Jennifer, who devours these books, why young people are so obsessed with doom, and she told me, “Of course you don’t understand! Those books are incredible because they prove that grown-ups destroy everything! I mean, if you and Daddy weren’t only interested in your 401(k)s, wearing those embarassing yoga pants, and eating packaged foods filled with chemical additives, then we wouldn’t have climate change, war and baby seals choking to death on Swiffer products! And in all of those books, it takes a teenager to fix everything, because teenagers still have souls!” When I mentioned that I can’t even coax Jennifer into cleaning her room, let alone saving the world, she replied, “My bedspread is on the floor because I care about refugees! It’s like, my bedspread is a refugee from my bed! STOP GOING INTO MY ROOM!”
To try and bond with Jennifer, I took her to see The Giver, which is a new dystopian movie based on a YA classic. It’s set in a future society where everyone is polite and rides matching white bicycles, because the government keeps all of the citizens drugged. Everyone lives in similar boxy, modernist houses surrounding some larger, official-looking structures, so the future seems pretty much like a mid-range state college, and because it’s the future, both men and women wear simple knit clothing that looks like ski pajmas; I’m not sure why, but ever since Star Trek, the future is all about stretch pants and tunics. Brenton Thwaites, who looks like a junior Abercrombie model, plays a boy who begins to question the imposed social order, and Jennifer commented, “Oh my God, he’s so cute! You can tell from his hair that he wants to break free!”
In The Giver, Meryl Streep plays an Elder who’s in charge of mind control and keeping everyone in line. She wears a long silver wig with bangs, and she speaks like a cross between Hillary Clinton and a really strict lesbian who runs an artists colony in New Hampshire. My favorite scenes were whenever Meryl popped up as a hologram in various citizens’ living rooms, and she’d always begin her stern surveillance lectures by saying, “I apologize for the intrusion” and then the other person would always reply, “I accept your apology.” I want Meryl’s hologram to start showing up in, say, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie or in my neighborhood yogurt shop, where she could say, “I require additional dried figs in my container.”
Jeff Bridges plays the Giver, who transmits the entire history of the world and all human feelings to the cute young guy, which of course made me wonder, “Where are that boy’s parents?”Jeff uses a strange, grizzled Yankee farmer voice, and he wears vests and long coats, so sometimes he seems to be playing Meryl’s lesbian love interest, as if they’re about to buy a panelled station wagon and found Mt. Holyoke together. Katie Holmes turns up as an especially chilly Mom, who has her son and his girlfriend arrested by the thought police. “Is Katie Holmes playing you?” Jennifer asked. “Katie only has one problem,” I told Jennifer, “which is that she seems to be taking the movie seriously.”
After The Hunger Games and Divergent and The Giver, maybe it’s time for a new set of movies, where the future is wonderful because all of the teenagers begin every day by asking, “Mom, do you need anything from Trader Joe’s? Because I’ll be happy to wait on the really long line, while you stay home and watch another wedding planner show in your robe.” Because that’s a future which would include a bag of soft-baked chocolate chip cookies with pecans, if you ask me.