This is an older post from 2014, updated. It seems even more relevant now. An interesting fact: the book has 9,500 reviews on Amazon and still has a four and a half star rating.
If you haven’t read Lois Lowry’s book The Giver, then do yourself a favor. Download it for a few bucks. Buy the hard copy. You won’t regret it. This book, published in 1993, is one of those dystopian novels where the world is laid out through the eyes of a single character – a young boy named Jonas.
His world is fairly bleak. He lives with his parents- non-genetic parents, parents who were chosen for him when he was an infant – and a sister, who was chosen the same way. His father is a Nurturer, who tends to the Newborns in the community, and his mother is a judge who keeps track of the various infractions committed by community residents. The power mongers are on the council and their decisions are binding, iron-clad.
With each birthday, children in the community receive certain gifts- Nines receive a bike. Twelves receive their “assignment” for life. Everything in this community is monitored for the degree of sameness the residents exhibit. Jonas, at his twelfth birthday, is assigned the position of Receiver, an important and enigmatic position that places him in the internship of The Giver, the man who holds the community memories.
Our daughter recently read this book for the first time and called when she finished it. “Oh my God. I cried at the end of this. We have to go see the movie the next time I come home. I’m blown away by this book.”
The movie? This was the first I’d heard of it. “Who’s in it?”
“Jeff Bridges plays the Giver and Meryll Streep is the elder on the council.”
I Googled it. The reviews weren’t great. But anything with Bridges or Streep is good enough for me. So when Megan came home for the weekend before her 25th birthday, she, Rob and I went to see The Giver.
For more than 90 minutes, I sat in this darkened theater completely enthralled. I had re-read the book before Megan came home, so it would be fresh in my mind. I realized that what had satisfied me twenty years ago when I’d read it had left me wanting this time, dissatisfied with the ending. But in the movie, that dissatisfaction vanished.
Movies provide various viewpoints and some of the most poignant scenes are those between Bridges as the Giver and Jonas as the Receiver. We come to realize that after whatever cataclysmic event changed things, the status quo (Council of elders) chose sameness over diversity. Through an unexplained technology and genetic engineering, they somehow erased the collective memories of the very emotions that make us human – love, passion, sensuality, sexuality, pain, sadness, grief, triumph, the tragedy of wars and their horrors.
Bridges is terrific as The Giver. His own daughter was selected as a Receiver a decade ago but as she was given the memories, she couldn’t stand it and asked to be “released.” And this word, released, has a precise meaning in this society of precise vocabulary.
In the movie, in the moment when Jonas actually understands and sees – through video – what this word actually means, is a powerful turning point. Jonas watches his dad – the nurturer- insert a syringe into the head of an identical twin whose weight isn’t up to snuff. His father doesn’t seem to understand that he is killing the twin.
In so many ways, the ending of the movie surpasses the book’s ending. This may be due to the fact that we see the moment when Jonas reaches the boundary of memories – and moves beyond it. Once he’s beyond it, the people of the community experience the return of memories of love and hate, war and peace, all the emotions that make us human.
Lois Lowry, as a writer, a novelist, set these ideas into motion. But Hollywood ran with them and made them real in a dynamic, visceral sense, And I haven’t even mentioned the character who is pivotal to the second plot point in the story, an infant named Gabriel…
You’re in for a treat with this one.