If you’ve ever wondered what life would be like without any pain and suffering, then The Giver can certainly paint a literally colorless picture for you. In Lois Lowry’s 1993 Newberry Medal winner, the world thrives in a community of complete and total unity, one where there is no conflict, no wars, no famine, no pain. The seemingly perfect utopia also comes without emotion, and unfortunately, the utter peace and order comes at the cost of any feeling of happiness and joy. When you think about it, is all the conformity really worth losing all the feels?
The American Library Association once dubbed The Giver as once of the most challenged and banned books in recent times, and it comes as no surprise. With mature themes like lewdness, drugs, brainwashing, and euthanasia, it’s actually quite fascinating why it was chosen to be made into a movie back in 2014. The film adaptation was produced by Jeff Bridges and stars himself and Meryl Streep (with a special appearance from none other than Taylor Swift herself). The movie version of the book actually couldn’t have come at a better time, with all the dystopian young adult fiction coming out and being turned into blockbuster hits. But despite the common theme, perhaps what makes The Giver unique is its implicit Christian motif, and for this season of Lent, the book can be the perfect partner for reflection.
In the story, the main protagonist Jonas gets chosen to be the next Receiver of Memories, which is an integral role in the idyllic community. This scapegoat is tasked to preserve the collective memories of society, so that when an emergency arises and the elders have a great need for past wisdom, they can consult the Receiver of Memories for specialized knowledge of all things past. What’s horrifying about this community is that in order to preserve the sameness and oneness of every single individual, every baby born is assigned to a particular family according to their basic needs, while outliers and volatile outbursts are sedated with a daily injection of a mandatory drug that keeps everyone in check. There is also the terrible method of eliminating those who become unacceptable to society, which means that the elderly and the children who are proving to be quite troublesome are killed off, and nobody even bats an eyelash. This is called a peaceful and acceptable transition to Elsewhere—in other words, you differ, you die.
The titular Giver is played by none other than producer Jeff Bridges himself, and he is now tasked to transfer all his knowledge onto Jonas, the one chosen to become the new Receiver of Memories. Jonas is aged twelve in the book, but perhaps due to the weirdly pedophilic nature of the ritual and procedure of passing on the knowledge of society (which, oddly enough, supposedly involves Jonas stripping off his shirt to engage in skin-to-skin contact with the Giver), Jonas is increased in age in the movie adaptation. The secret and often terribly painful knowledge that needs to be passed on to Jonas is transferred via back rubs (or hand clasping in the movie), and while Jonas finds these memories abhorrent at first, he begins to see the beauty of a truly colorful world.
With all these said, The Giver might come off as an ordinary dystopian story, but the implicit Christian values are what religious reviewers find intriguing. For instance, the story, although unintentionally, defends the Christian faith by championing the powerful Biblical theme of free will. It is an absolute necessity, as it seems, in the story of both the book and the movie. Without free will, the world plunges into an emotional, mental, and spiritual chaos, wherein every single thing might seem perfect and pristine on the outside, but deep down, everything is crumbling. It is often a controversial issue, to talk about free will in a religious sense. It certainly begs the question about why a loving and all-powerful God would allow suffering to happen when He can just eliminate all this negativity completely. According to some learned sources, this is probably one of the reasons why misery and destruction both come with daily life—it’s because once all these are removed, then you remove emotions and true joy as well. Despite the fact that the concept of free will is incredibly difficult to grasp, The Giver hopes and aims to shed light, even if just a tiny ray of it, on why free will is a necessity to human life.
In relation to this, releasing individuals from the pain of this world does not constitute a life lived in full. The Bible even says that Christ favors living a full life, as in the verse, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Despite all of humanity’s struggles with agony and heartbreak, removing all of these will only result to a shadow of a life, one that is not lived to the fullest.
Even after all of these, what is perhaps the biggest Christian takeaway from this book and the movie adaptation this Lenten season is the message of the Incarnation. Suppression of the Good News might come as an equivalent of the totalitarianism of the story, and in an ingenious plot element, the song Jonas witnesses in the climax of the tale is the Christmas hymn Silent Night. Not only does the song fully encapsulate the birth of the Savior, but it also shows readers and audiences just how crucial the theme of the Incarnation in this world is. And in this solemn season of Lent, that is precisely what we all should be focusing on.
So, if you’re in need of a good book to reflect on this Holy Week, why not pick up a copy of Lois Lowry’s classic, The Giver? It’s a short and sweet read that will not take up too much of your time, and if you’re a more visual person, you can always catch the movie version instead. If nothing else, you get to see Taylor Swift in action as a beautiful pianist. Once you’re done, let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
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