Director: Phillip Noyce
Writer: Michael Mitnick
We enter a brave new world in which war, even violence, has been completely eliminated. Perfect equality has been established. Scarcity, non-existent. Capitalism: poof! Abundance is plentiful, transportation is green, and as for global warming, we’ve got climate control. Sounds pretty great, right?
Wrong. Between killing babies who don’t fit the standard post-birth and euthanizing the old, the citizens of the Community live out a machine-like predetermined existence. As if having their emotions and sex drives biologically neutered through self-injected, mandated chemicals wasn’t bad enough, their place in the workforce is chosen for them by the elders, and they can’t even experience colors or music.
In this universe, memories take on a life of their own, as if they would simply exist as a force of nature, floating around and finding people to latch onto — unless they are kept in a human host. That is exactly what happened a couple decades ago when the last receiver of memory committed suicide, and when the elders of the Community choose a new receiver, they are determined to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
I have to admit, I read this book by Lois Lowry in fifth grade and fell in love with it (although it’s always ironic that dystopian fiction is so often assigned reading by the powers that be). So, what’s so great about this particular dystopia?
The establishment in this one is a completely different beast. It isn’t necessarily hierarchy that’s the central problem here (if the citizens even knew there was a ‘problem’…), it’s a falsified, deterministic, feelingless experience with life. It’s missing out on what they don’t know is possible. When Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), the new receiver of memory, begins to experience things he’d never felt before by linking arms with The Giver (Jeff Bridges), it starts out pretty great. In fact, the moment he sees the full range of color for the first time, a stark orange and yellow sunset on the deck of boat, is heartbreaking in it’s depth of feeling contrasted with the lifelessness around him. By the time he gets to memories of war — not so great.
Perhaps one of the most significant moments in the movie is when Jonas is given his job description as the new receiver, the last rule being, “you may lie,” in a world where lying is obviously prohibited, illustrating that lying is not only essential to revolutionary activities for liberation, but also an important part of the human experience.
Jonas and the Giver know that the only way to break the cycle in the community is to run to the edge of the boundary of memory before the drones catch up to him, releasing all the memories he has so that they’ll return to the citizens, the Giver staying behind to help advise the community on what to do with this new outpouring of information.
Anarchists know that there’s no freedom without equality, and there’s no equality without freedom. The human need for self-determination is absolutely essential to what we believe about what is good for ourselves and for society. The Giver makes you look at the world three-dimensionally. It makes you stop and ask yourself, “if I’m fighting for a world of absolute peace and justice, what would that look like?”
Is the movie saying that war is necessary? Absolutely not. But is processing heartbreak and hardship and conflict a natural part of a truly visceral experience with life while you’ve got it? Absolutely. The themes in the Giver go beyond politics and shake you by the shoulders, demand that you pay attention to what is going on and appreciate the diversity of people — the traditions, the cultures, the lives of adventure and exploration and actual friendship — a message that is becoming more important as the digitization of our own society and commercial marketers seek to steamroll us into uniformity. The Giver says, don’t block it out. Don’t tame it. Don’t allow your emotions to dry up, don’t try to bury your misery along with your joy.
Race: In this dystopian future where all people are literally colorblind, race is considered not a factor, as the Community has achieved “perfect equality…” however, whatever measures they took to get there are not known. All of the actors in the movie are Caucasian. If other races exist outside the boundary of memory or in other communities, they are not seen.
Gender: At puberty (called “the stirrings”) all members of the community are required to begin taking sex drive reducers. When Jonas stops taking his, he begins developing a heterosexual love interest. While no gay or transgender issues are ever brought up, they are pretty much implied by the message of the beauty of diversity.
Plot: It moved a little fast, to be honest.
Character development: Meh. Some of these characters are pretty cookie-cutter, but what can you really expect in a society like that?
Dialogue: Again, a little flat.
The book: Betcha haven’t heard this before, but yes, it was way better.