What happens when Hollywood takes a Newberry Award-winning tale and brings it to the silver screen? One of the most life-affirming films of this generation. So it is with the recent release of The Giver, a Walden Media drama based on the beloved children’s book by Lois Lowry released in theaters on August 15 and for home entertainment in late November.
The Giver takes advantage of the recent trend in Hollywood to make movies out of popular Young Adult dystopian fiction, capitalizing on the popularity of recent page-to-screen efforts like The Hunger Games, Ender’s Game, and Divergent. Similarly, The Giver is set in a dystopian future where the governing structure controls many aspects of daily life.
Hollywood Tells an Original, Powerful Story
In this future, there is no emotion — highlighted by almost the entire film being shot without color — or individuality, only sameness and near absolute equality. There is no difficulty, no pain, no unpredictability: only order and ease.
The film centers around a boy named Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), selected to become the next “receiver of memory” for his community, the one upon whom the “burden” of memory, pain, and emotion is laid by the previous receiver (Jeff Bridges) who takes to calling himself “The Giver.”
As the film progresses, Jonas learns the sinister truth of his community and how far those in power will go to preserve their utopia. At great risk to himself, Jonas seeks to undo this grave deception.
Much of this film centers around the irony of “precision of language” (or, in the words of Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride, “You keep using that word, and I do not think it means what you think it means!”) Phrases such as “release to elsewhere” — a ceremony for the aged and infants deemed unfit — are used to hide the darker realities of euthanasia and infanticide.
At a pivotal moment in the film, as Jonas learns the truth, he sees a newborn taken into a back room and killed by inserting a syringe into the baby’s skull. In that moment, Jonas realizes he is surrounded by an ingrained culture of death hiding behind imprecise language.
Creating or adapting such a story isn’t something new to Hollywood. The Giver follows in the footsteps of such such life-affirming science-fiction film classics as Logan’s Run, Gattaca and Soylent Green. One of the final scenes in The Giver is reminiscent of a crucial moment in Soylent Green and echoes it well.
Fighting for My Life
The story Lowry wrote deeply resonates with me. Many years ago, I was born ten weeks premature and diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy. At a time with far fewer of today’s medical advances — and suffering from damage to the motor centers of the brain — I could have been that baby rescued in The Giver.
A family friend who worked at the hospital stepped in and changed my fate
Doctors whisked me away and little is known about those early hours of fighting for my life. One account, from my grandmother and a family friend, is that the doctors didn’t think I had a fighting chance so they wanted to halt the effort to keep me alive. Nevertheless, this family friend — who worked at the hospital — stepped in and changed my fate; much like Jonas does later in the film.
Like one of the newborns in the film who didn’t measure up, I’ve faced similar challenges, but defied expectations to achieve my dream: working in Congress and speaking up for those who cannot speak for themselves. Involvement over the years in the pro-life movement has allowed for my story — and what I’ve learned — to be told on radio, television, in print, and in person appearances at events like the Students for Life of America annual conference.
These opportunities allow me to do for others what the family friend did for me and what Jonas did: reflect hope to others by showing “the impossible can become possible” if you’re willing to step out of a life of ease and convenience and into harder places of risk and pain.
Many years ago, my parents took a great risk by saying “yes” to me when they could have easily said “no.” Doctors assured them I would expire so they were faced with a decision. If they chose to love, my death would have brought great pain. If they chose distance and detachment, they would’ve been spared the grief the medical experts were convinced awaited them.
When asked to be the receivers of Aaron, they said “yes.” Like Jonas, they had the courage to step fully into the harder choice. Life became difficult, but love was learned alongside perseverance and selflessness. These concepts may be be harder to hear amidst the cacophony of culture, but every once in a while they leap forward and confront us.
So that’s why The Giver means a lot to me. Clearly it was given to us at a time where those who grew up with the book can now share the film with a new generation willing to embrace the value of life.
“The impossible can become possible if you’re willing to step out of a life of ease and convenience and into harder places of risk and pain.”