3 Stars – Thought-provoking
Many have asked the question whether the joy and love outweighs life’s pain and sorrow. Though life is uneven and every person has a unique ratio of joy to pain and love to sorrow, the answer is repeatedly affirmed that the smallest love outweighs the greatest sorrow. That truth is once more affirmed by acclaimed director Phillip Noyce’s film The Giver.
Based on an award-winning 1993 science fiction novel by Lois Lowry, the story has been adapted for the screen by Michael Mitnick and Robert B. Weide. A popular book with some controversial themes, the story imagines a world in which the decision was made to create a utopia by medicating away emotions and removing freedom of choice. Cloned babies are implanted into surrogate mothers and placed into artificial families to live in identical dwellings in the most extreme of all planned communities. Religions, races, and ethnicity have been removed along with love, music and the ability to perceive color, experience excitement and attraction. Set upon a flat mesa with continuous clouds hiding what is beyond the cliff’s edge, the community is completely isolated with no knowledge of what might lie beyond those cliffs.
Born into this utopia (or dystopia) is Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) who has special intuitive abilities that cause him to “see beyond what others see” which also makes him unable to fit well into the roles “the elders” have created for adults over 18 to fill. Instead, he is chosen to become the “Receiver of the Memories” of the world before the attempted utopia was established. He receives these memories from “The Giver” (Jeff Bridges) in order to prepare him to wisely advise the elders in their future decisions without ignoring the lessons of the past from the life that was left behind. Such exposure has the predictable effect of opening his heart and lifting his spirit to the higher calling of bringing love, laughter, freedom and choice back into their world.
Though we won’t spoil the plot of how this happens, the tale has the requisite characters necessary for such an adventure. Jonas has two trusted childhood friends Fiona (Odeya Rush) and Asher (Cameron Monaghan) who begin to stand with him in spite of the oppressive and manipulative machinations of the Chief Elder (Meryl Streep). Also part of his journey are his sincere but society-controlled parents (Alexander Skarsgard and Katie Holmes).
Though not intended as a religious work by either author or director, the theological and philosophical assertion of the necessity of love and freedom is compelling and agrees with religious values. Within the Wesleyan tradition of the Christian faith, we affirm that to be fully human as created in the image of God, people require both the freedom to love as well as accountability for how we treat others. In this dystopia, it is clear that though some pain and sorrow could be removed from our lives if we didn’t have the ability to love, we would be left with “living a life of shadows, of echoes,” as The Giver explains, rather than our full humanity.
Discussion for those who have seen this film:
- The ending of the film is claimed to be a “miracle” as described by The Giver. As the family in the home sings “Silent Night”, what do you think the film is trying to communicate to us?
- It is difficult to imagine that human beings, even when sedated, would not still have the emotions that define us – including love and anger. Would you be willing to take a pill to remove the pain of life if it also cost you the ability to love? Would you want someone else to make that decision for you? Would you want to make that decision for someone else? Why or why not?
- The similarity of this film with the film Divergent is obvious with their themes of coming of age in a controlled society. Which did you like more? Why do you answer as you do?
- 4. The use of their black and white world transitioning into color is a similar technique as used in the film Pleasantville. Do you think that cinematic touch is effective in showing the opening of their lives to emotions? If not, how would you show the power of emotion entering their lives?