I read “The Giver” a while back, a decade or so, and never finished the whole series, but I decided to give the movie a try. Movies are just never as good as the book, are they? Just the same I was delighted and found it very entertaining. The movie, “The Giver” is from 2014 and stars Jeff Bridges and Meryl Street.
The more I return to this story-line, the more I really appreciate it. I find the themes reflective of our modern struggles, profound and somewhat prophetic. I think it was hugely underrated, under appreciated. Some of the criticism threw me for a loop too like, “logically inconsistent.” I suppose many young adult stories are somewhat logically inconsistent just by virtue of the genre, the intended audience, but what struck me as funny about the complaints, we’re talking dystopian science fiction here, so by what standard do you accuse a fantasy reality of being logically inconsistent? Like the fascist creation of a mandatory state of being, for the common good of course, should have worked out much better than it did?
Indeed, that is exactly what the critics meant, and if that doesn’t terrify you in a very adult and grown up way, I don’t know what will.
“The Giver” is young adult sci/fi in which a perfect utopian paradise has been built where Sameness is king, diversity is gone, and with it all conflict is removed, along with all emotional depth, passion, and color. Much like skin color might create conflict among people, so too does someone having an apple that is shinier or a darker red. How do we solve this problem of potential envy and the injustice of individual differences? Well, we just remove all the color, make the whole world black and white, and celebrate Sameness.
Jonas, the hero, is selected to be the Receiver of Memory, the one person who is chosen to receive the people’s history, culture, emotions, from the world before Sameness. You can imagine Jonas living in a relatively peaceful, conflict free zone of Sameness, suddenly discovering things like war, poaching, crime, but also love, grief, and passion. Color. Jonas really wrestles with all his new emotions, and with the moral and ethical dilemmas, what is inherently good, evil, or in between? How can you tell? He has been taught all his life that his world of Sameness is morally superior, genetically perfected, ethically sound, and that it protects him.
As the story evolves Jonas comes to realize that much of what he had always been led to believe was ethical and good, may not be so good at all. For example, babies, genetically engineered in his world, are not actually considered human until they are certified viable and assigned to a family. Un-viables are simply “set free from community,” put down. The elderly, rule breakers, anyone deemed undesirable or unviable is sent to Elsewhere, released from community. Set free.
Jonas discovers that Elsewhere is not actually a place and that being “set free” is really just a euphemism for execution. In a world where there are no deep emotions, no passion, there are also no strong human bonds, no ties that bind, no powerful sense of right and wrong, no deep grief, or as the Bible says, no natural affection.
It’s all very rational, logical, and just, in a very well ordered and somewhat cheerful manner, but the story does ask some pertinent or perhaps some impertinent questions. Is it even possible to a have “good” without allowing at least the risk of evil? If everyone voluntarily consents to something is it still considered “evil?” And yet, what is “freedom?” What is “consent?” Are you truly free if you don’t fully know the consequences of your actions, what is being lost, and why that thing or that person has value?
None of these questions are really new to sci/fi, or even new to philosophy and theology, but they are questions that become so vitally important as our world moves farther away from science fiction and towards a realm of science reality.