MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Photo By The Weinstein Company
Directed by Phillip Noyce. Starring Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep
“The Giver”, Lois Lowry’s 1993 book for children, could almost be subtitled “My First Dystopian Future Book” because it has been a staple on middle-school reading lists for twenty years, winning the Newbury Medal and wide acclaim while also appearing on lists of banned books in communities that found its subject matter too disturbing for young minds. The current wave of YA books with the theme of a world gone wrong, including “The Hunger Games”, “Divergent” and “The Maze Runner” all follow in the path that Lowry created with “The Giver” and its three subsequent sequels.
What sets “The Giver” apart is that it works best as an allegory set in a storybook world. Imagine, if you will, a world in which sameness is embraced and everyone has their future mapped out for them. There is no war, no hunger, and no reason to fear. It’s a vanilla ice cream kind of place, with really great vanilla ice cream (rendered in black and white).
As the film begins, Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) and his two school friends Fiona (Odeya Rush) and Asher (Cameron Monaghan) are preparing to enter adulthood and receive their assigned jobs at a graduation ceremony presided over by the Chief Elder (Streep). Asher is chosen to be a pilot; Fiona is given her dream job as a nurturer of newborn babies in a comfortable nursery. And Jonas just waits. His job is called out last of all and it is a special task that will bring him face to face with the Giver (Bridges), a wise man with a special task to hand down to him.
But all is not as it seems; Jonas will discover truths that will reveal the high price to be paid for sameness. His knowledge will change how he looks at the world, his family, his friends, and his future.
Without spoiling the film’s surprises (discoveries that were more subtly uncovered in the book), The Giver (like 1998’s The Truman Show)is a response to the Genesis story of the Garden of Eden. In the Bible, Adam and Eve are cast out of Paradise due to their willful breaking of the law. In The Giver, we find a society that does everything it can to enforce Paradise and a way of life in which the thwarting of the good is not even considered.
For Christians, this is a great springboard for discussions about sin and redemption. If freedom to choose leads to sin and sin takes us away from God’s will for our lives, would we want a world in which this choice was taken away in order that good might prevail? Talk amongst yourselves.
The ideas are all good, but the execution of the story in this film version stumbles more than a few times. While the book is set in a fairly pastoral setting, the film tries to create a science-fiction world that actually comes off as a bit cheesy. (The Giver might have worked better as an animated film.) This version’s attempt to create some romance for Jonas and Fiona seems insincere and underdeveloped.
On the other hand, Jeff Bridges is quite good in the title role (Bridges also produced this film) and Australian actor Brenton Thwaites makes an appealing lead.
Parents should pay attention to the rating. This film is truly a PG-13 film, suitable for middle school kids and older youth. Trust me. You don’t want to have to explain the ideas in this movie to a sensitive Fourth Grader.
Three halos: A provocative parable about freedom vs. conformity that still works better in print form.
Two pitchforks: For the disturbing moral choices that come with enforced control.
Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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