“We are living a life of shadows, of echoes, of faint, distant whispers of what once made us real.”
What if we lived in a society where, to protect us from ourselves, memories of the past were banished and our emotions were suppressed? Almost like the code of the Jedi Order to an extreme.
In The Giver, we are introduced to such a community.
Following an event called “the Ruin,” a people rose from the ashes to construct a new order. We’re not told exactly what “the Ruin” is, but it’s not hard to figure out. This is a society which emerged from the devastation of war and human conflict. To protect themselves from further catastrophe, human nature is squelched, and the society is cut off from the outside world.
Differences are discouraged and, for the most part, everyone is expected to look and act the same; freedom of thought and individuality are things of the past. In order to avoid conflict, the goal is sameness.
As the plot unfolds, the film shows us quite clearly why man is not meant to live this way.
When you finish the stage of childhood, your place in society is chosen for you, and all consequential decisions are made by a governing body called the Elders. Emotions are seen as potentially hazardous, and topics such as love are considered taboo. Memories from the past have been discarded; the world’s horrors have been buried deep. No one can see or remember anything of the world’s history.
Except for the Receiver of Memory. The Receiver’s job is to brave the memories of the past in order to advise the Elders on how to safeguard the future. Jonas has the potential to fulfill this role. He is chosen to be the Community’s next Receiver and is trained by the former Receiver, who now calls himself the Giver.
One of the rules of the Community is to not lie, but the Receiver is not subject to this rule; it is one of his or her privileges. However, we come to understand that it’s not much of a freedom. The reason a Receiver can lie is because no one else can know the details of the memories they see; the Receivers are to bestow wisdom without divulging their sources. As a future Receiver, Jonas cannot talk about his training. It’s a psychological island, and one that Jonas realizes he doesn’t want to stay on.
During his time with the Giver, Jonas sees things he’s never experienced before, like snow, celebratory events, memories that bring color to his world. Later he stops taking his “injections” – the medication that numbs Community members’ capacity for emotion – and Jonas more deeply experiences the feelings associated with the memories. He even dreams, and also learns of love.
Jonas finds it difficult to keep secrets, and he wants to share what he’s learned with the people he cares about, like Fiona and Asher. The Chief Elder finds this disruptive and potentially dangerous and tries to clamp down on Jonas’ free expression.
However, the Giver also shows visions to Jonas that open his eyes in ways that alarm him, such as violence, death. Exposure to such weighty, sobering knowledge leads Jonas to a devastating conclusion; the Community has not rid itself of evil, they’ve merely desensitized themselves to it. They are shielded from the truth by their ignorance, not understanding that evil has found a home in their own backyard, disguised by other names, hidden in plain sight. In their efforts to maintain a “safe” environment and uphold the status quo, they are quite literally “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.
Evil cannot be defeated blindly, and trying to uproot it by targeting emotion as its source and abolishing all knowledge and conception of evil will not protect us. How can we protect ourselves from evil in a society where evil cannot even be acknowledged? And in an existence without love, how can we truly live?
“Because if we can’t feel, then what’s the point?”
The world is full of evil, and the key to defeating it is not turning a blind eye. That just makes us far more susceptible. If we refuse to acknowledge history, to even know it, then we cannot learn from it.
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge . . .
Jonas wants everyone to know the memories of the past. The Giver has been waiting for someone like him, someone with the courage to expose the truth and go against the grain. The Chief Elder is stalwart in her conviction that this would be dangerous and believes that reintroducing emotion and the world’s history would make them vulnerable to future atrocities ignited by passion, hatred, or jealousy. But the Giver understands that love and faith have the power to overcome these dangers.
Love is the greatest enemy of evil, sin’s greatest bane. Without it, we rob ourselves of the true power to fight evil. If we don’t understand evil, then we don’t know what it is we’re supposed to be fighting and therefore won’t recognize sin when it threatens to claim our souls or the souls around us. We shackle and handicap ourselves with our willful ignorance.
And you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.
The Giver surprised me. I have yet to read the book and knew next to nothing about the plot, so I didn’t know what to expect. After experiencing it for the first time, I would definitely watch it again.
While Meryl Streep strikes me as rather milquetoast as the Chief Elder, I think that’s kind of the point. If the idea is to show us how out of touch and withdrawn the Community Eldership is, then Streep executes her part effectively. Brenton Thwaites is pretty solid as Jonas, and unsurprisingly, Jeff Bridges simply shines as the Giver. Bridges definitely cemented the Giver as one of my favorite movie roles of his.
I can definitely recommend The Giver. It’s clean, and it’s powerful. This is one that the movie industry can and should be proud of. The Giver illustrates for us why we cannot solve our problems by burying our heads in the sand, or by rejecting the good as well as the bad. If we are to truly achieve peace and harmony, we cannot arrive at that destination through moral neutrality; we actually have to stand for something.