In a world that seems “black and white,” with some gray mixed in, is there really more color than one thinks? Maybe, or maybe not.
“The Giver” is set to release in theaters this week (Friday, August 15), and I had the privilege of attending a screening of the film last night. Since the book was published 21 years ago, it’s been on the reading list at countless middle schools, and read my millions of people. With the deep subject matter, discussions have ensued regarding the social, cultural, political and religious themes that can be interpreted from the story. From some of the colleagues I've talked to, there have been some concerns on just how the movie will portray certain ideals, interpretations and mental pictures that they have concocted from the book.
Just to refresh your memory on the story plot, here is the synopsis directly from Walden Media/The Weinstein Company:
“The Giver” centers on Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), a young man who lives in a seemingly ideal, if colorless, world of conformity and contentment. Yet as he begins to spend time with The Giver (Jeff Bridges), who is the sole keeper of all the community’s memories, Jonas quickly begins to discover the dark and deadly truths of his community’s secret past. With this new found power of knowledge, he realizes that the stakes are higher than imagined – a matter of life and death for himself and those he loves most. At extreme odds, Jonas knows that he must escape their world to protect them all – a challenge that no one has ever succeeded at before. “The Giver” is based on Lois Lowry’s beloved young adult novel, which was winner of the 1994 Newbery Medal and has sold over 10 million copies worldwide.
I'm certainly not a narrative theologian, but as I watched the film, there were a few themes that stood out to me as it pertains to faith in particular.
- (Black and White: Conformation-Transformation) The idea of conformity to the “Black and White” of the community/society depicted in the book made me think of the transformation that comes from knowing that there is more to this life than what's on the surface. And that God has called us to a higher purpose. There is freedom that comes from the renewing of our minds in Him. For instance, Paul says in Romans 12:2 “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” In the film, true change and transformation happened when Jonas truly began to pull away from the “pattern” of his world/community and opened up is mind to the truth (which was essentially the polar opposite of what he first believed to be true and real).
- (The Apple = Original Sin) The scene where Jonas began to recognize color for the first time (seeing life through new lenses/in a new light) was particularly powerful. Also, the object that he seemed to notice first (the red apple) held a deeper meaning for me. That particular object made me think of the stereotypical apple representing "Original Sin." Then when he used the apple (with his shed blood on it), to get around taking his emotion-taming injections, the faith parallels widened. Even more, the scene where he gave the apple to Fiona and encouraged her to do the same. Well, it’s basically Adam and Eve all over again, but the roles are reversed. At first, Fiona didn't want to take the apple and lie about her meds, but Jonas convinced her, and as a result, they began to experience love and life more abundantly and they had a better knowledge of good and evil and right and wrong.
- (Sameness) In an effort to secure “sameness” among all residents, “color” was removed from people’s lives, as were history, art, music and religion. Everything was decided for them. From food rations, roles/jobs, family units, dwellings, time management, emotions, feelings, precision -words/language, and even; who was worthy to live and die (abortion, euthanasia, or whatever name/label you want to call it). In the story, “release” and “lose”, were some of the terms given. However, getting rid of these things, like religion; actually did not produce “sameness” at all, but rather fostered deeper diversity, whether they realized it or not, the differences outweighed the "sameness." No amount of control in one's environment will create equality, but there is One who can give that to everyone, for free. After all, who and what is always the same? In Hebrews 13:8, we’re reminded that “Jesus Christ never changes! He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” In an ever changing world, while the realities of life are both horrifying and beautiful, that is the one truth we can always count on. Jesus Christ and His Love for us is always the same.
- (Precision of Language) In the world/community presented in the book, speaking precisely is always encouraged. But, in what seemed like a perfect world, there were still many of the same atrocities as the previous world/culture/society that the elders tried to eradicate. But the things were precisely called by other names to alter their meanings. And no one seemed to know or understand the consequences of their actions. For example, death/euthanasia are still present, but were referred to by other names.
Ultimately, Who is “the Giver” … of Life and of Love… David says in Psalms 26:9-11 “You (God) are the giver of life. Your light lets us enjoy life. Continue to love those who know you and to do good to those who are good. Don’t let proud people attack me and the wicked force me away.”
Some have said the only religious references present in the film (flashbacks) are of Islam and other faiths, but for me, thinking a bit deeper has caused me to contemplate some of the evangelical undertones that seem to be woven throughout the film/story.
The truth will set you free to live life in a whole new light. Choices always have consequences, but people do not always choose wrong (as implied at one point in the film). Good wins out in the end in the form of Love. And as 1 John 4:8 says: "God is Love."