"The Giver" (2014) movie review

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Jeff Bridges, "The Giver"
Meryl Streep, "Chief Elder"
Brenton Thwaites, "Jonas" (Jonah--the prophet swallowed by the big fish, the reluctant prophet)
Katie Holmes, "Mother"
Odeya Rush, "Fiona"
Cameron Monaghan, "Asher"
Taylor Swift, "Rosemary" (The Giver's daughter.)
Gabriel--the baby whom Jonas rescues from death.

Tradition

Great model of Tradition. We are all "receivers" of God's Word. We need to absorb the tradition and hand on to the next generation what was handed on to us.

The movie does not show Jonas reading any of the books in the library, nor discussing their meaning with "The Giver." Reading and understanding is hard work. The movie uses a commonplace of modern science-fiction as a shortcut for education: the Giver and the Receiver just join hands and have a "Vulcan mind-meld" (Star Trek; Paul; Harry Potter), with memories being transferred automatically and inerrantly from one person to the another.

It takes training, time, and effort to develop the virtues necessary to grasp the Tradition (the memories of Mother Church) and to become proficient in using her self-understanding to teach the mysteries of the faith to the next generation. "Knowledge maketh a bloody entrance."

I understand the necessity of the plot device as a shortcut to make the movie watchable, but I lament the reinforcement it gives to our desire to be passive learners. It is the kind of "education" that couch potatoes and internet surfers desire.

notes while watching the movie

Great demonstration of how sad the grey dystopia is. Awful!

The Giver: "Balance." "With good there is always bad." YUCK!

Color, race, religion.

Piano--but no piano tuner!

The Giver: "Doubt all authority, even if you like the authority." Self-contradictory nonsense!

Noah's Ark! What if we could start all over with a purified family? Would we be happy?

What is the cause of our unhappiness? What is the true cure?

Jonas: "If you can't feel, what is the point?"

The Giver is more of a hero in this movie than in the novel? How did he have a daughter? Who was her mother? Unstated reality of the dystopia: no sex? All babies generated by genetic scientists? Did they choose to make Jonas as a seer? Was he a random mutation of some sort--needed, but not designed?

The movie's answer: "To love someone." We are designed for love. Love requires freedom. Without freedom, there can be no love, only a poor substitute. Mother: "Precision of language!" Love has no meaning in a world where sublimation, self-sacrifice, is achieved by a daily dose of drugs.

The Giver: "We could choose better." Christian existentialism.

Theme: "Life is good," even if it comes at the expense of allowing errors and sin. Theodicy.

Christmas carol, "Silent Night," played very, very softly at the end, sung by the Trapp Family Singers. Jonas: "I will not apologize for what I have done. This will lead us home."

Happier ending than in the novel? Restoration of everyone's memories and feelings? Immediate relief from the effects of the drug? "Movie magic." In the novel, Jonas thinks he might be hearing singing from the village he left behind.

The Giver Quartet

The Giver

Frequently challenged by parents.

Inspired by talking with her father and mother when they were in a nursing home.

Gathering Blue

Messenger

Son

In memory of her son

In memoriam: Major Grey Lowry.

"The Children’s Author Who Actually Listens to Children."
Very early in the morning of Memorial Day, 1995, the children’s author Lois Lowry was awakened by a telephone call from Germany. It was still dark outside the windows of her little brick house in Cambridge, Mass., when she heard her daughter-in-law explain that Lowry’s son Grey, an Air Force flight instructor, died when his F-15 crashed on takeoff.
The mechanics had attached two control rods into the wrong sockets — a problem caused more by sloppy design than by sloppy mechanical work. Those same control rods nearly caused two previous crashes, and multiple reports had recommended easy fixes. The Air Force ignored those suggestions until Grey Lowry’s death but still made an example of the mechanics — court-martialing them and withholding crucial information from the defense team. The day the trial was meant to begin, one of the mechanics shot himself in the head. He left a note to the Lowry family that read: “I know I am going to heaven. And in heaven I cannot hurt anyone else, not even by accident.”
When Lowry lost her son, she had recently published “The Giver,” a slim novel about a boy in an isolated community discovering the terrible secrets behind the pleasant, emotionless life he and his friends live. In “The Giver,” Jonas, upon his 12th birthday, is apprenticed to the title character — the repository of the community’s collective memory and the one man who remembers what it was like when citizens experienced love, sadness, danger, death, lust. (Even color is a mystery to most of the community.) When Jonas learns that Gabriel, a fussy baby he has come to love, is slated for extermination, he kidnaps Gabriel and escapes into an uncertain future.
Since that book’s 1994 Newbery Medal, it has become a classic — selling millions ofcopies worldwide, landing on the curriculum of countless schools (and being challenged or banned at many more for its message of distrust for authority) and leading a wave of dystopian children’s literature, most of which has little in common with Lowry’s plain-spoken stories.
In two subsequent novels, “Gathering Blue” and “Messenger,” Lowry explored other communities in the same postapocalyptic world. This fall, Lowry will publish “Son,” the final novel in what’s now being called the Giver Quartet, and together the four books make a quiet masterpiece — a corrective of sorts to “The Hunger Games” and other movie-adaptation-ready Y.A. series. Where those books feature violent death and armed rebellion, the battle that Gabriel fights in “Son” is one in which empathy and love are his only weapons. And where “The Hunger Games” features a romantic triangle among three fierce revolutionaries, “Son” highlights the undying love of a mother for her child and the child’s for his mother.
“The fact that I lost my son permeates my being,” Lowry told me. And that loss permeates “Son” as well. It’s a book of longing in the guise of an adventure. Children will love it. It will break their parents’ hearts.
Though any parent ought to love the message of “Son” — with its mother and child seeking each other desperately through distance and time — many parents haven’t loved the message of “The Giver.” For nearly 20 years it has been near the top of the American Library Association’s list of banned and challenged books, with objections raised particularly to a frightening scene in which a troublesome baby is euthanized. But Lowry thinks that’s window dressing for adults’ real problem with the book. “What I think they’re really objecting to is the fact that a young person is rejecting the authority and wisdom of the governing body,” she said. “That’s unnerving to them.”
The confrontation that concludes the Giver Quartet is a face-off between Gabriel and the sinister Trademaster — a climactic battle made perfectly unfilmable by the fact that Gabriel refuses to fight. Instead he uses the “veer,” a magical talent in which he is able to enter another person’s consciousness and feel what they feel. That is, Gabriel battles evil with empathy.
“The ability to understand other people’s feelings,” Lowry said. “As an encompassing gift that a kid could have — or a human — that could be the one that could save the world. If we could all acquire it to the extent that boy had it, no one would go into a movie theater with a gun.” It’s a powerful lesson, and one that I’m eager for my children — so often so quick to think only of themselves — to learn. It’s surely one I still need to learn. Perhaps these books are for adults after all.
The Giver Quartet is, in the end, less a speculative fiction than a kind of guide for teaching children (and their parents, if they’re listening carefully) how to be a good person. I think back not just to Lowry’s son but also to the other son that accident claimed, the mechanic prosecuted for Grey Lowry’s death. His name was Thomas Mueller. He had a wife and two young children. “Every second of every minute of every day, I fall apart a little more,” he wrote in the notebook he kept during the trial. When he sat in that courtroom, he, too, felt sad and scared.

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