Receiving from "The Giver" may entail accepting more responsibility than a young man can take.
What would you give for world peace? With conflicts regularly breaking out in various places around the globe, this question is one each of us has likely contemplated.
But such is not the case for the residents of The Community. They live in a utopian environment achieved by eliminating diversity, making their communications precise, prohibiting lying, and administering a daily injection to each individual to insure the health of all. Overseen by the Elders, every person’s life is regulated from his or her birth and placement into a family unit, to their childhood education, assignment to a job, and eventual departure to “elsewhere” in their old age. The society runs so perfectly that no one even thinks to ask what have they given for world peace.
No one, except perhaps “The Giver” (Jeff Bridges).
Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), a resident of The Community, is about to graduate to adulthood. At the annual ceremony where the career placements are made, the presiding Elder (Meryl Streep) withholds his pronouncement until the end. To the surprise of everyone, instead of being a drone pilot or a nurturer like his friends Asher and Fiona (Cameron Monaghan and Odeya Rush), Jonas is selected to be the next “Receiver of Memory”.
Although this is a great honor, Jonas is entirely unsure of what this titled role entails until his training with The Giver begins. The old man, whose position Jonas will one day assume, explains that he is the keeper of memories from the past. The knowledge he possesses about a time before The Community was formed allows him to council the Elders when they face problems beyond their present experience. The wise man will share this information with the young apprentice by clasping his hands, then transferring images and experiences right into Jonas’s mind.
Despite his deliberate upbringing, nothing has prepared Jonas for the explosion of thoughts and feelings that the Giver asks him to receive. Introduced to joy, happiness and love, it doesn’t take long for him to catch a glimpse of what his mentor means when he says there is so much more to the world than what life in The Community offers. Yet as he comes to understand pain, sorrow and loss too, he starts to sympathize with why The Elders are trying to protect the citizens. It isn’t until Jonas begins to question the costs incurred by his society in order to maintain the benefit of a peaceful existence that he recognizes he may have to use his own judgment to decide if things should change.
Based on a popular young adult novel by Lois Lowery, The Giver also presents the viewer with this age-old conundrum: Which is better? World peace without individual choice, or individual choice that will almost certainly lead to a world without peace?
In presenting the argument, the movie includes montages of news footage showing some of Earth’s most triumphant and disappointing moments (like the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Tank Man in Tiananmen Square). Portrayals of playful snow sledding is juxtaposed with the brutality of war (soldiers being shot and killed are shown), and the beauty of a sunset with the ugliness of greed (an elephant is killed by poachers for the value of its tusks). The story imagines as well the kinds of methods that might be needed to keep a population completely under control. It depicts invasions of privacy (like all-seeing security cameras) and lethal injections (for euthanasia, infanticide and execution).
This content, along the mature themes, make this film a poor choice for young viewers. But it is a strong contender for raising important discussion topics with older children and teens. Featuring solid performances and intriguing art design, The Giver has a lot to offer those willing to thoughtfully receive.