The Giver portrays the world we’ve always wanted, at a cost we would never want to pay…at least if we knew better.
Jonas lives in an ideal world, one without conflict, racism, sickness or offense. Thanks to environmental control, precision of language, daily drug injections, and the extermination of anything that creates powerful emotions, life as we know it today has been traded for an existence marked by mediocrity and contentment. When Jonas is selected as society’s Keeper of the Memories, he experiences the highs and lows of an extinct way of living that only his mentor, The Giver, has ever known. But has anything really changed? Has tighter control actually improved the world or just masked its ugliness with ignorant bliss?
The film raises loads of questions, but three big ones stand out to me. First, it raises the question of purpose. The movie starts with Jonas and his friends discussing the big day, the day they will graduate from childhood and receive their life assignments. The dialogue and voice over confirm that their jobs define their entire purpose in life. This is perfectly acceptable if one has no concept of God, a spiritual realm, or an afterlife. And of course, knowledge of the spiritual would need to be annihilated along with other passion-producing experiences in this dystopian society.
Second, is happiness more valuable than life? (spoiler alert, skip ahead if you haven’t seen the film) When Jonas learns that the term “release to elsewhere” really means extinguishing a life, he realizes the whole system is corrupt. But that is only after he has received the gift of living. When he announces his plans to stop others from killing, The Giver explains that they won’t understand his outrage because they have no frame of reference. This begs the question, “How can people understand the injustice of murder if they have never known the value of life?” And by extension, how can they fight for the lives of others if their own souls have been starved to death? The restoration of the soul (even if it means experiencing unhappiness) is what Jonas is ultimately after.
Lastly, what does a true utopia look like? We have all seen the failures of social initiatives such as socialism, censorship, universal healthcare, and affirmative action. Though well intentioned, they ultimately fail to create a perfect system. We have also seen the failure of good leadership and government to maintain control (corrupt successors inevitably come into power), the failure of drugs to create lasting happiness, and the failure of humanism to perpetuate morality. I wonder if Lois Lowry worked this story inside out, asking herself what would have to be removed from our society in order to create a utopian one. It appears that she knew we would have to remove sin and death, or at least the knowledge and understanding of it.
Each of these questions lead to a bigger question, “Is the understanding of sin and salvation worth it?” That (albeit phrased differently) is the question that Jonas poses at the very beginning of the film. He says, “They asked if I should apologize for what I did. I’ll let you decide.” The film raises many, many other questions that begin as philosophical questions and continue branching out until they reach the spiritual. It is a challenging film if you take time to examine the principles and ideology behind each intriguing detail.
The Giver is a fantastic film, especially if you have a friend to discuss it with over dinner afterward. The acting is superb, the dialogue is rich, and the myriad themes are though-provoking and curious. It’s also nice to see some bigger stars like Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges supporting individualism rather than uniformity and globalism. As far as the sci-fi element, it holds its own, maintaining conceivability through special effects and a well-thought-out “world.” Critics warned that it might not do well because of the lack of action. Not much happens, they said. But The Giver holds your attention without wavering as Lowry’s alternate world is opened up, scene by scene, like an onion.
The Giver opens across the nation on August 15, and the theaters are sure to be packed. Be sure to arrive early for one of the best films this summer! For more information about the film, visit TheGiverFilm.com.