Sometime in the future, humanity has re-organized to create the perfect society under the rule of "sameness." As The Receiver, Jonas begins to experience things long lost to his society, including emotions, music, color, and pain. While at first a thrilling and exciting experience that he desires to share with his childhood friends, Jonas quickly finds out that his "perfect" society isn't quite so perfect, and that much has been sacrificed for the sake of "sameness."
Sometime in the future, humanity has re-organized to create the perfect society under the rule of “sameness.” Society lives under strictly observed rules, some of which are:
- Do not be rude
- Do not lie
- Wear your assigned clothing
- Eat your assigned food
- Take your morning injection
Within the society, everything is assigned and regulated by The Elders, who are essentially the government of the society. Everything within the society is assigned by The Elders: jobs, spouses, children, and so forth. Large ceremonies are held where the elderly are “decommissioned,” so to speak, and sent off to Elsewhere; nine year-olds receive their bicycles, and new “adults” are assigned their jobs.
Enter lead character, Jonas. Despite having lived in the society all of his life, Jonas doesn’t really feel like there is a place for him. He sees things that others don’t. His feeling of not having a place is only amplified when, during the ceremony, he is skipped over for job placement and ultimately left standing by himself at the end. It is at this point that Jonas discovers he has been chosen for a special job: The Receiver of Memory. Within the society, Jonas is the only one to have all of the necessary attributes for this position, including the ability to see “Beyond.”
Eventually, Jonas meets with the current (now previous) Receiver and finds out just what his position entails. Jonas will be the sole person to contain memories of the world before the current society was implemented. As the Receiver, it will be his job to advise The Elders in matters where they lack sufficient information. The previous Receiver becomes the titular character, “The Giver,” after a conversation in which Jonas asks something to the effect of, “Well if I’m The Receiver now, what does that make you?” As The Receiver, Jonas begins to experience things long lost to his society, including emotions, music, color, and pain. While at first a thrilling and exciting experience that he desires to share with his childhood friends, Jonas quickly finds out that his “perfect” society isn’t quite so perfect, and that much has been sacrificed for the sake of “sameness.”
The film is an adaptation of a novel by the same name. Having never read the novel, I cannot tell you how the movie stacks up in comparison. My wife was pointing out differences to me as we watched, but that certainly doesn’t prepare me to be an accurate critique of the film as an adaptation, so I can only tell you my thoughts on it as a film.
I found the overall experience to be enjoyable. The writers did a great job of showing the world through Jonas’ eyes by presenting this “sameness” society as seemingly good at first, and then slowly whittling away the facade of perfection as Jonas begins to gain more knowledge from The Giver. His reaction to his new-found knowledge is quite realistic; rather than keeping his amazing discoveries to himself (as he is supposed to), his first reaction is to want to share them with his childhood friends, particularly his female, childhood friend, Fiona. As you can probably imagine, Fiona is presented as Jonas’ ultimate love interest, which admittedly is predictable, but also makes sense when you consider the way the plot develops. I won’t say too much, as I don’t want to spoil one of the things that was taken from people in order to achieve “sameness.”
My only complaint with the writing is what I will call the “middle” of the movie. The movie opens well, giving us a decent overview of the world we’re being presented with so that we understand where the characters are coming from. The climax is also thrilling, keeping you on the edge of your seat almost until the very end. The middle, though, is kind of lacking. While there are certainly endearing parts to it (Jonas’ attempts to let Fiona experience what he’s experiencing), I feel like it could have been better. We get a lot of scenes showing what Jonas is receiving from The Giver–scenes ranging from sledding down a snow-covered hill to a war in a jungle–and there is definitely a relationship that develops between them (The Giver tells Jonas that he loves him at one point), but I really don’t feel like that relationship was developed well enough. I really don’t have any suggestions on how it could have been done better, but I just feel like the film would have benefited (or, at least, been more interesting) if their relationship were fleshed out a little more. It certainly wasn’t bad or boring by any means, but it just felt lacking, especially when compared to the rest of the film.
Overall, The Giver presents a story that will certainly entertain you, if that’s all you’re looking for. Know this, though: there is a message here. This is ultimately a dystopian story, and I have yet to hear of a dystopian story without a message. You will inevitably get more out of the film if you pay attention to the message, and if you are a Christian viewer, I think you’ll get even more than what the author intended (see my points below). In this writer’s opinion, the characters are interesting (as well as the story), and the film as a whole is engaging. Another bonus is that it is a fairly family-friendly movie. While there are some disturbing scenes and a bit of violence (again, see below) I don’t remember any truly objectionable content. This is not surprising, considering that the original novel was a children’s book. While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend taking your grade-schooler, it is certainly a film that you could see with your middle-or high-schooler (and which you could then discuss with them later).
To summarize all of this into a few words: you should see this movie.
Christian Concerns and Themes
First off, let me just say that there will be some minor spoilers ahead.
One scene shows Jonas’ father “releasing” a baby. While the man doesn’t realize what he’s doing, Jonas does; he is euthanizing the baby. There are also a few scenes of violence: Jonas punches Asher in the face, and The Giver is hit in the leg with some kind of tazer-like device. There is also no clarification on how The Giver transmits his memories to Jonas; the two touch, and memories are transferred. Finally, Jonas kisses Fiona in one scene.
You may be able to pull more than this out, but here are some Christian themes that occurred to me:
1) Trying to create a perfect world outside of God’s Kingdom is futile.
I know my Christian readers are probably saying, “Well, duh!” but let me explain. On the surface, The Elders seem to have succeeded: there is no more war, no violence, no hatred, no jealousy; it does, indeed, appear to be a perfect world. This falls apart, though, when we eventually realize that this perfection was attained at the sacrifice of emotions. While people are capable of having “feelings,” such as frustration and fun, they are unable to have emotions, including “love.” By way of the daily injections, the emotions of the people are subdued. When confronted by this, the Chief Elder essentially argues that love only leads to war. I say all this to make the point that, outside of God, the only way to attain a peaceful society (at least by this model) is to sacrifice the beautiful things God gives us. Love, obviously, is one of those things, but so is family (there are no natural families, only assigned children and spouses) which means that most women (outside of those chosen to basically bear children their whole lives) will never experience the miracle of childbirth. Also, while it’s not explicitly stated, it’s probably safe to assume that husbands and wives do not experience sex. While God certainly requires us to give up some things in order to enter His kingdom, they are only things that would ultimately harm us anyway. The Elders, in contrast, have removed things that are given by God and, therefore, fundamentally good, in order to achieve sameness.
2) There is something to be learned here about legalism.
While The Elders certainly have some good rules in place (no lying, no rudeness), they also impose some very strict rules for the sake of “sameness” and, therefore, avoiding conflict, such as wearing your assigned clothes. While all of the rules are meant for “good,” only some actually serve that purpose, while others ultimately rob the people of certain experiences and emotions that aren’t harmful in and of themselves. Similarly, legalism tends to impose rules on Christians that may be well-intentioned, but that are ultimately restricting, burden-inducing rules that hinder rather than help. What further complicates the matter, of course, is that those imposing the rules don’t necessarily see them as legalistic, perhaps because they feel they have the proper, biblical backing, or perhaps because they have a personal conviction on the issue and believe it’s a conviction everyone should have.
3) Jonas is, in some ways, like a new Christian.
As he discovers things that he’s never previously known, he can’t help but want to share them, especially with the people closest to him. New Christians can be much the same way; they are excited when they first come to Christ and are filled with a new joy that they’ve never known before. Talking about Jesus feels not only natural, but also like the most desirable thing in the world.
So, have you seen The Giver? If so, what did you think? Do you agree with my points above? Disagree? Do you have other themes to add? Let us know in the comments below!
Credits: Background image taken from: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/0/02/The_Giver_poster.jpg
+ Engaging plot
+ Thought-provoking message
+ Interesting characters
+ No profanity
- Middle of the film feels a bit lackluster
- More focus on Jonas' relationship with The Giver would have been nice