The inestimable Tim has done me the honor of replying in kind to my many many movie recommendations. I haven’t seen this yet, but I will. He understands the value of reciprocity, for which I am truly grateful.
A Teen Flick Worth Watching
You’ve doubtless heard of Twilight and the Hunger Games. You may have even heard of Divergent, which is not at all the Hunger Games. But even if you are already burnt out on the recent young adult movie craze, there’s one that you should sit down and watch with any young adults in your life.
It’s called The Giver. You may have missed it because it wasn’t in theaters very long. Like the other YA films I’ve mentioned in comments, this one is based on a book I haven’t read. The premise is that it takes place at some undetermined date in the future. All that’s left of society lives in one city, atop a gigantic plateau somewhere. Everyone dresses the same, lives in the same type of house and is even given the same type of bicycle when they turn nine. Mist swirls all around the plateau’s edge so nobody can see anything below. Not that anyone is too curious about what’s out there, because they all take daily “medication” which suppresses emotions. For their own good, of course. They also have five rules to follow, among which are do not lie and do not murder. Clearly an efficient culture since they only need five commandments.
The big event for this society is an annual ceremony when, among other things, 18 year-olds find out what profession they will be assigned. These range from working with babies to mechanical maintenance, and whatever job they get is performed for life. Also, the elderly members of the population no longer able to perform their duties are thanked for their service and enter retirement to “Elsewhere”. More on that in a bit.
The protagonist, Jonas, discovers he has been chosen to be the new receiver of memory. He will receive not just any one person’s memory but the collective memories of humanity from the past (don’t question how, just go with it). Because in this idyllic, peaceful society, only one person at a time is allowed to remember anything about life before the current regime, and then only in case the leadership (played by Meryl Streep) requires consultation. The rest of the time, the receiver lives in his own little house, away from everyone else on the very edge of the plateau. On the first day of training, Jonas learns one of his new job rules supersedes a larger community rule: the receiver is permitted to lie.
Jeff Bridges plays the titular Giver, who transmits the memories to Jonas. The first one he shares is of riding down a hill on a sled. Jonas is wildly exhilarated by it because he has never experienced even a thrill that simple in his life, nor has he ever seen snow because the weather is controlled…
The receiver encounters many memories, most of a way of life long gone. We are invited to experience what we know from the viewpoint of someone who does not know, and thus to see it all anew.
The point to make is that the film shows, even if unwittingly, the realization of the nanny state. The citizens in the Giver know a lot and nothing simultaneously. They can genetically engineer people, perform maintenance on complex machines, and are all fit as fiddles. Yet their lives are completely detached from any knowledge of history and the past. They are told things are better this way than they ever were before, so there’s no need to know about any of that stuff.
The ultimate nanny, played by Meryl Streep, is not trying to be death personified, not really. She’s a true believer, not hateful in the way that Agent Smith is. She just knows it’s better to give people no choice other than the rules. Don’t let them choose. Let the smart ones, chosen by the previous generation of smart ones, figure out what everybody else should be doing. And if anyone gets out of line, there are thug guards and drones waiting just around the corner, out of sight. Because every utopian civilization needs thug guards and drones.
I linked to RL’s Agent Smith post above because I thought of that very post while watching this film. The elephant in the room the Giver never quite addresses is that its society is atheist as well as totalitarian. Yes, they finally got rid of “Sky Cop”, which is great. God not only hands out all of these rules, but he allows suffering in the world, so he’s a jerk. Who needs him? The atheists knew better and created a society free from pain. So how did they create this perfect society? Electronic cameras & mics everywhere, all to monitor everyone and tell them what to do. Killing critical thought, curiosity and individuality, as well as inflicting suffering on those who don’t get with the program. And the drones, of course. Sky Cop, indeed.
The greatest poignancy in the film is the character of the Giver, which unfortunately is not explored as deeply as it should have been. He, rather than Jonas, begs for more narrative attention. The millennials who comprise the target audience probably couldn’t empathize with him, which is sadly similar to the fictional world being portrayed. Instead, we get a power bike chase. Cue AC/DC.
I think many readers here, though, can understand the Giver. He is one old man, full of memory and history, surrounded by people who don’t want to hear it. His purpose is to serve as a glorified Google search, should a select few need to reference something from the past. He lives the memories of those who came before him, but feels his own cannot measure up. He cannot share anything he knows, and the majority of the population would not understand if he tried. And every day, he is forced to view the tragedy of seeing the world as it has become against the memory of how it used to be. Some days, this fate doesn’t seem very farfetched to me at all.