A warning for all of you reading this: There are spoilers contained in this review. If you have not read the book The Giver by Lois Lowry, I suggest you not read the rest of this. If you haven’t seen the movie, it may be okay for you to read on. It all depends on whether you like special things to be told about things you haven’t seen yet. I don’t like that, so, if it were me, and I hadn’t seen the movie, I wouldn’t read on. Either way, that’s the end of my warning.
Somehow I managed to not read The Giver in high school. I did not read it till last summer, actually. I struggled when I read it with how sad the book is, and a general dislike of dystopian novels, but I did find that I liked it. As I have thought back on it over the year, I have liked it even more. Reading it is, in and of itself, a thrilling experience. You desperately long to know what happens – and then the end comes and you are left wondering what happened.
I love how strong the theme of life is in the book. Lowry seems to draw in on how important it is to preserve life – even life that is not deemed as “fit” by the society. The parallels she draws between war and death in the memories and release to elsewhere in the community are striking. When I read it, I remember being enthralled by the descriptions. Somehow in her writing, Lowry is able to make you feel as though you are experiencing things for the very first time with Jonas. It opened my eyes to the wonder in the world around me – to the grandeur of color, the wonder of snow, the tragedy of war, and the blessedness of life. But, the haunting parts about the book, to me, were the descriptions of pain. Just as I felt wonder and awe with Jonas about colors, so I also I felt the pain alongside him. When he felt pain, he understood why the elders had initiated sameness. He questions whether life and love and emotions are worth all the pain. I understand this question. I’ve questioned it myself. During the reading of the book, I found myself emotionally reacting to the pain alongside Jonas. Tears flowed freely from my eyes as I felt the stabs of pain with him.
I think my first reaction to knowing there would be a movie was, “Oh, why do they have to mess another great book up?” I vaguely remember a conversation with someone about it, actually. I have an intense dislike for movies made from great books in which they do not live up to the book itself. There are notable and amazing exceptions to that dislike (Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe), but there are also many more that I have disliked. When I heard that the movie came out and that it got some good reviews from places I trust (I’m talking to you, World Magazine), I got more interested in seeing the movie.
Like any movie based off of a book, there were differences between the book and movie. I’ll admit they are there, but I don’t want to dwell on them. I walked out of the theater amazed by how well the movie matched the overall feeling and theme of the book. I was even more amazed that the movie seemed to go even farther than the book. The book has a wonderful emphasis on life and love; the movie has more of an emphasis on love. It is an emphasis that I think is a completely acceptable one. The movie actually shows the gospel in a powerful way. Two lines are said very close to each other in time in the movie in a powerful way – a way that can open up conversations for the gospel.
At the very end of the movie, there is a tense scene in which The Giver (played by Jeff Bridges) is trying to plead with the elders, specifically with the “lead elder” (played by Meryl Streep, though the role is not in the book), to stop the release of a young girl. They are arguing about memories and whether they should be returned to the people. The lead elder thinks it is a bad idea. The Giver thinks it is a good idea. He makes some statements about love – explaining what it is, how it feels, and why it is important, and then says, “With love comes faith and hope.” Faith, hope, and love….the greatest of these is love. Faith, hope, and love – where do those three exist but in Scripture – In whom do they exist if not in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Without love you cannot have faith and hope, and love is the everlasting one of the three. The boldness of Hollywood to leave a line in like that astounded me.
But it doesn’t stop there, as far as the gospel goes. It cannot, in fact, stop there. Or, to be more precise, it cannot start there. After a few more lines of dialogue, the lead elder makes a powerful statement. She said, “But people are weak. And when people have the chance to chose, they will always chose wrong.”
Re-read that for me and let it sink in just a bit.
“When people have the chance to chose, they will always chose wrong.”
Yes, Meryl. Yes they will. Always.
And that is why we humans need Love personified. That is why we need faith and hope. Because we have none in and of ourselves. If we only have ourselves to look to, we are doomed. That is a truth that must be addressed to present the person of Jesus Christ to a world without true love – a world without faith and hope and love.
So I walked out of the theater loving this little, short movie. I can find fault with it. But a movie that can say two statements of truth so close together while showing the blessedness of life? That is something I can and will support. In fact, I supported it so much I asked my parents to read the book and go see the movie with me again.
I’m headed off to a Bible study in a few minutes in which we will look at the Heidelberg Catechism. The first question is an apt ending to wrap up what I have (poorly) tried to say in this post.
“What is your only comfort in life and death?”
“That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.”
May God’s comfort in the person of Christ be your hope this week.