Film Provides Gift of Awareness

Isabel Owens, Lifestyle Editor

The long-awaited film adaptation of the 1994 Newberry Medal awarded children’s novel, The Giver, debuted in theaters on August 15. Despite having been written over a decade ago, The Giver stands apart in today’s onslaught of dystopian society-based literature and film.

Inspired by the death of author Lois Lowry’s son, the 1993 novel provides a view into the life of a boy named Jonas, and the isolated utopian community that he and his “family unit” call home. As well as retaining the typical features of a dystopian society, such as totalitarianism and a lack of individualism, Lowry adds several twists to Jonas’ community that ultimately set his story apart from rival novels.

The inhabitants of Jonas’ miniature world live by one overriding rule: “same-ness.” In a quest to eradicate all hatred, pain, and conflict, the creators of the society require each inhabitant partake in a supplement that eliminates all emotion, creating a society with flaws invisible to its people.  The inability of the citizens to feel true emotion and to obtain knowledge of the real world is symbolized by their inability to see color; true to the book, the film is mainly in black and white.

From a young age, Jonas knows that he is physically different from the rest of his community, as he has pale eyes while most have dark eyes. It is only when he is given the assignment of Receiver of Memory at the age of 12 that he realizes he has a mental gift as well: the ability to truly see beyond the limitations of his regimented society. However, this gift comes with a price, as he will be apprised of the truths of the real world, some of which are painful. Jonas’ journey is similar to that of many children, growing from a state of blissful happiness to somber awareness.

I read The Giver for the first time in seventh grade, and was less impressed with its message than I am after seeing the movie. The movie does an accurate job of portraying the theme of the novel, and lives up to the high acclamations of the novel.

For a movie based upon a children’s book, The Giver is surprisingly thought-provoking beyond the capacity of most children. Although the emotional aspect of any book is hard to capture on film,  the actors of the movie portray the characters surprisingly well. For me, the raw emotion of the film is riveting enough without a lot of edge-of-your-seat action.

However, some were disappointed by the slow pacing and lack of physical conflict in the movie. “The problem with The Giver is not that it adds things like surveillance drones and hints of romance; it’s that it’s been unable to find a way to make the essence of the novel cinematically involving,” said Kenneth Turan for NPR. Other critics argue that, for a film about the dangers of enforced conformity, the cliche message of the movie is sadly ironic.

For me, the profound question of the movie is not the cliche “meaning of life” question, but the question of whether living is truly worth it; does our ability to feel moments of true happiness balance out the pain that we live in, or do we too often take those moments for granted?