The word “dystopian” has always intrigued me. The easy definition is that it means “anti-utopian,” but it sets up too facile a dichotomy because life never reaches the utopian ideal except in dreams, books and movies. If anything, dystopian means post-apocalyptic, which most often brings us into the realm of science fiction. A once acceptable world, however imperfect, has self-destructed or suffered destruction from outside forces, or a combination of the two. Whatever is left is supposedly “dystopian.”
The Giver by Lois Lowry, published in 1993, has sold 10 million copies worldwide and is HarperCollins’ top-selling children’s e-book. In 1994, the book won the prestigious Newbery Award and the Regina Medal from the Catholic Library Association, among other awards.
More importantly, The Giver has become the popular culture foundation for several series of young adult novels-into-film that in many ways tell the same story. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and Divergent by Veronica Roth come to mind, although Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 is certainly the granddaddy of them all.
In thematic terms and visual motifs, The Giver reminded me of The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood and stand-alone films “The Truman Show,” written by Andrew Niccol and directed by Peter Weir, and “Pleasantville,” written and directed by Gary Ross. The new Lifetime television series “The Lottery” so far seems to be following similar themes.
In “The Giver,” a group of boys and girls of high school age are about to graduate and learn what their permanent jobs will be in the community.
In this society, everyone is the same, and diversity of any kind is not permitted. There is no war, no hunger, no laughter, no joy, no biological families, and no one can tell lies or ask any questions. Babies are artificially conceived and born in a Nurturing Center and then given to parents to raise. Everyone is exceedingly polite. It has been scripted this way by generations of Elders to save society from the Ruin that destroyed their civilization. A Boundary protects them from Elsewhere, a place no one is permitted to go. When people get old, or an undesirable child is born, they are sent to the lower levels to be “released,” a euphemism for euthanasia.
Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) receives his assignment last, for it is very special. The Chief Elder (Meryl Streep) tells him he is to be the Receiver, the one who will receive the community’s memories from the Giver (Jeff Bridges). Jonas will also have privileges not afforded the others. Among them, he will be able to lie.
The Giver, an elderly man, shares memories with Jonas, memories of … CLICK HERE to continue reading my review at the National Catholic Reporter