*I’m going to spoil the book/movie, so if you haven’t read the book (shame on you!) avoid this*
I can’t remember when exactly I read it for the first time, but for years now, The Giver by Lois Lowry has been one of my favorite books of all time. Since about sixth grade, I’ve re-read the novel over and over again, still finding new meanings and trying to wrap my mind around the story. My mom had read it alongside me, and we still discuss it often, so when we heard they were making a film based on the book, we were excited, but nervous.
The Giver takes place in a futuristic dystopian type society, similar to a lot of books that are popular today. But it feels different, like it could be happening right now. The entire book takes place in Jonas’ head, which was one reason I was nervous about them making it into a movie; how could they show all of his thoughts and internal dialogue on screen? You can understand from the start of the novel how sterile and lacking this community is. Their discussion of feelings and regimented lifestyle just feels lonely and boring and sad. They don’t even see color because color creats differences and differences lead to conflict, and they are completely unaware of any kind of pain or suffering.
At the age of twelve, children are assigned their career within the Community, and Jonas is assigned to be the Reciever of Memory. The current Receiver, who becomes the Giver, holds all of the memories of society that he uses to assist in decision making, and he must transmit them to Jonas, who has known nothing but this black and white Community his entire life.
In some ways, I could understand why Lowry would imagine a society like this as an answer to all of the problems today, I think a kind of sameness and equality is desirable. It’s understandable that she would want to eliminate pain and suffering from our world. On the flip side, though, the book illustrates the good parts of life we lose when we eliminate everything that is bad.
“Our people made that choice, the choice to go to Sameness. Before my time, before the previous time, back and back and back. We relinquished color when we relinquished sunshine and did away with difference. We gained control of many things. But we had to let go of others,” the Giver explains to Jonas. This is my favorite line in the entire book, and it translated so well into the film.
The film begins completely in black and white, with an occasional flash of color and slowly, like a sunrise, color comes back. Since tbe book is from Jonas’ view, we are literally seeing the world as he had, slowly becoming aware of new good things that previously didn’t exist to him, as well as to new bad things that had previously seemed okay. We see Jonas witness a sunrise for the first time, snow and sledding, dancing and love and we understand the joy and happiness missing from this uber-equal society, each memory is shown in vibrant color, a stark contrast to the dismal black and white of the Community. And then we see Jonas experience war and death and evil and how disturbing it is to him. But the Giver says it perfectly, that in order to have sameness and control we have to give up so many of the things that make life truly beautiful and that give life meaning.
At the end, Jonas decides to cross an imaginary “Border of Memory” into Elsewhere, and all of the memories the Giver has transmitted to him are released back to the Community. It is truly the most stunning and powerful moments in the movie. Jonas crosses the line and a bright and vibrant montage of human life fills the screen, there are people overcoming diversity, people laughing, people loving, people being born and people dying, people accomplishing great feats and stunning shots of nature all over the world. As several characters in the film are seated, prepared to watch the release (euthinization) of Jonas’ lifelong friend, Fiona, the memories return and the emotions just overtake everyone. The release stops in its tracks and everyone is moved to tears, suddenly becoming aware of not only the pain and cruelty in the world, but of the awesomeness of life.
The novel and the movie did an amazing job of highlighting how suffering, although terrible, allows us to truly experience life. It made me think about how truly lucky I am to have everything I do and to have experienced everything I have. I am having a tough summer, but it reminded me that no matter how much everything sucks at this point, someday things will get way better and I will be able to appreciate them so much more.
Not to mention what a stellar cast the movie had–Jeff Bridges as the Giver (who I always think of as Burt Vickerman from Stick It), Meryl Streep as the Chief Elder, Taylor Swift and Katie Holmes– they allowed the novel translate to the exact picture I had in my head. Lesser-known, Brenton Thwaites was a flawless Jonas and played him and his emotions perfectly. The set and the costumes and everything were just as Lowry wrote them and I couldn’t have been happier with it. I will see it again and again, if only to be reminded of how spectacular life is.
Whether or not you actually read it in middle school when it was assigned, I think everyone should read The Giver and then see the movie. Both are worth your time and are works of art.