Acton Institute Powerblog

The Giver: Adding Color to a Monochromatic World

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The_Giver_posterThe Giver, a cinematic adaptation of Lois Lowry’s contemporary young adult classic, is great summer action-adventure entertainment. The film also serves as a terrific example for future moviemakers seeking to transfer themes of spiritual faith to celluloid without succumbing to preachiness and overwrought didacticism.

Yes, The Giver is yet another dystopian sci-fi adventure story featuring handsome young protagonists  rebelling against established A-list Hollywood stars portraying adult autocrats. But, unlike the silly, over-the-top political media and often disturbing ultraviolence of The Hunger Games, The Giver delivers the action without unnecessary onscreen carnage. True – for the most part – the adults are still autocratic nincompoops, but the purpose behind their actions derives not from the comic-book arch-villain text book. Instead, the world depicted in the movie is closer to attempts at social engineering witnessed on a daily basis; from all-pervasive surveillance cameras to language policing and nanny-state enforcement.

Taking a cue from the original Star Trek television series, the setting of The Giver has, like Spock’s home planet, Vulcan, eliminated human emotion and biological passions in response to some catastrophe (presumably war). One individual is entrusted to all pre-catastrophe memories, the title character (Jeff Bridges). The Giver resides in an outpost on the edge of civilization, a bunker filled with books and a grand piano. He is charged with transferring his memories to Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), the state-designated Receiver of Memories. Like Spock, the Giver performs his own version of the Vulcan mind-meld for the transference of memories.

Why does the state go to all the trouble of eliminating historical memories while preserving them in only select few? As Bridge explains, the elders believe they must “know the past in order to guard the future.” An echo of George Santayana’s famous saying, of course. The remainder of the population is injected daily with a concoction that deadens biological urges, reminiscent of the soma in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. All memories of warfare and poverty suppressed, but also of the simple joys of life. “Use precise language” is a mantra whenever abstract words as “love” are uttered. Biologically, babies are genetically engineered in laboratories before given to “families” for nurturing to adulthood. Those not making the state-designated weight and length requirements are discarded, as are the elderly. Those making the cut are sent to state schools whereupon their strengths and weaknesses are monitored constantly for eventual placement in a career determined the best fit by the Elders.

Missing in the narrow confines of this “ideal” society – made obvious by Phillip Noyce’s direction – is the color that fleshes out humanity, warts and all. Noyce relies on a monochromatic palette for the first portion of the film before Jonas’ awakened memories. While this can brings to mind Gary Ross’ execrable 1998 film Pleasantville wherein libertinism alone brings color to the black-and-white1950s town, The Giver emphasizes the necessity of the entire panoply of an imperfect humanity.

Those conversant in natural law will recognize the film (and novel as well) champions free will as opposed to totalitarian micromanagement. More subtly, the film and novel also champion faith. In The Giver’s climax, Jonas is required to take a literal leap of faith, resulting in a most satisfying denouement wherein the Christmas song “Silent Night” figures prominently.

The Giver is a primer on how to make a film for both faith-based and secular audiences. Many films designed to capture spiritual audiences are monochromatic throughout – if you’re a Christian and the film is marketed to your demographic, you can bet your last kernel of popcorn all the film’s antagonists are evil through-and-through. Meanwhile all the protagonists stumble through a minefield of obvious foreshadowing before reaching the finish line whereupon grace is guaranteed. The Giver, on the other hand, slyly holds the faith card up its sleeve before sliding it across the viewers’ consciousness.

Freedom-loving film aficionados would do well to recommend The Giver. It’s a terrific adventure film that portrays the dangers of a too-near futuristic society resorting to social and biological engineering at the expense of individuality, privacy, religious faith and God’s greatest gift: free will.


Bruce Edward Walker has more than 30 years’ writing and editing experience in a variety of publishing areas, including reference books, newspapers, magazines, media relations and corporate speeches. Much of this material involved research on water rights, land use, alternative-technology vehicles and other environmental issues, but Walker has also written extensively on nonscientific subjects, having produced six titles in Wiley Publishing’s CliffsNotes series, including study guides for "Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland" and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest." He has also authored more than 100 critical biographies of authors and musicians for Gale Research's Contemporary Literary Criticism and Contemporary Musicians reference-book series. Most recently, he was managing editor of The Heartland Institute's InfoTech & Telecom News. Prior to that, he was manager of communications for the Mackinac Center's Property Rights Network. He also served from 2006-2007 as editor of Michigan Science, a quarterly Mackinac Center publication. Walker has served as an adjunct professor of literature and academic writing at University of Detroit Mercy. For the past three years, he has authored a weekly column for the mid-Michigan Morning Sun newspaper. Walker holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Michigan State University. He is the father of two daughters and currently lives in Midland, Mich., with his wife Katherine.


  • Anticrime_OCD

    I saw the film just in opposite point of view. The mind control was similar to how organized religion controls its believers while under the ruse of “free will”.

    • How does “organized religion” do this? I belong to a particular faith tradition, and I am not compelled to anything. I can go to services on Sunday or sleep in. I can participate in services or sit and do nothing. I can give money or not. No one comes to my house and compels me to participate or give or do anything. I’m wholly free to do as I wish. There are of course “cults” that practice control over their adherents, but the majority of religions don’t compel one to do anything.

      • Anticrime_OCD

        Have you read the bible? “Thou shalt”, or “thou shalt not”, ring a bell?

        • I am familiar with the Bible. If you note, the Ten Commandments (which I believe is what you’re referring to) are directives for us to stay in a healthy relationship with our God and our neighbors. When we break them, what happens? Is there a giant sinkhole that swallows up the sinner? Strikes of lightening? A bishop comes to your house and escorts you to the gulag? We have free will. We live best and happiest when we choose the live well, but there are not chains around our wrists and bars on our windows.

          • Anticrime_OCD

            Being familiar with something isn’t the same as actually reading it. If your religion tells you, thou shalt not do something, and you do it, what are the consequences? Okay, let me put it this way; if someone doesn’t believe in religion or a god for that matter and doesn’t attend any church, no tithing or temple prayer, do most religions treat them as non-believers, label them as heathens, infidels, sinners and damed them to hell? Or, as it seems to you – nah, you don’t have to believe to go to the promised land, you still get in the pearly gates, or 69 virgins?! C’mon, please lets be realistic here, you know there are, according to religion, consequences to your “free will”, it’s ingrained to coerce people to be scared or else!

          • Would you like a number of how many times I’ve read the Bible? Let’s just say “A lot.” However, I still choose, of my own free will, to do as I believe God wishes, to the best of my ability. If I don’t, yes, I believe there will be consequences. But I still choose. No one comes to my house and beats me if I miss church on Sunday. My name doesn’t go on a list to be imprisoned.

            You seem to have a view of faith as an abusive marriage. No wonder you don’t like it. It’s a loving relationship, a covenant, willingly agreed to. If it’s abusive, you’re in the wrong place.

          • Anticrime_OCD

            Ha ha ha! You are so funny! Faith is like an abusive marriage. Is that what you assume when someone questions religion? Well, at least I hope you do realize it’s not as free will as you think, when there are consequences. I don’t think you get it. When you have negative consequences, like burning in hell, all that healthy relationship thing you have with god, well is, downright abusive!! Now that might be an abusive relationship, lol. So what you are saying, is if you don’t have a healthy relationship with god, whatever that is suppose to mean, their will be consequences. Hmm, and this is suppose to be good?! Love me, or you will suffer?

            Wow! I think I’ll stick with my freedom to know what’s best and be guided by reason. And you can have this belief of god and religion of; do as I say, but if you don’t, you will burn in hell for all eternity, and by-the-way you have this thing called free will not to believe god. But, don’t forget there will be consequences. Hahahaha!

          • So, if a company has a dress code, or a school tells students they must maintain a certain academic standard in order to play sports, is this “mind-control”? You don’t want to wear a tie, don’t take the job. Want to play football? Do your schoolwork.

            Is any type of rule-setting or guidelines or boundaries “mind-control”? Do you lose your “freedom” or “free will” if you have a speed limit to follow or when you travel and have to go through security?

            Or are you proposing anarchy?

          • Anticrime_OCD

            I’m sorry, did my example of an abusive relationship bother you? Trying to compare dress codes to burning in hell, is downright weak. It’s okay, you can have your supposedly “free will” with consequences. Please by all means, go ahead and enjoy your free will. I’ll just take my freedom to not have to live with the idea of burning in a make believe place called hell, and enjoy my life knowing I have genuine humanistic reason.

            I highly suggest learning more about social-psychology, and understanding societal norms. Then you may better understand how society works with guidelines, laws, acceptance, and above all what anarchy really is.

            What you are doing is trying to justify something that really isn’t there, except in your mind and how ‘you’ feel. I understand this because I once used to think like you, and no one can deny you or how you feel away, but it doesn’t mean it exists outside of you. Enjoy, you have the ability to imagine, and it’s a wonderful thing. But there is so much more to life than living in imagination. I absolutely love it, it’s commonly called…reality. Give it a try, it will open you up to things that are actually tangible, you can feel it with your fingers and toes, and it’s a wonderful mind blowing experience. To me, trying to comprehend what it is real, surpasses all my imaginations!

          • Bother me? Not at all. I know the truth. I do not rely on feelings, but absolute truth, nor do I have to argue with those who insist – absolutely – that no absolute truth exists.

            If I am wrong, I have attempted to live a good and moral life, and nothing is lost. If you are wrong, the consequences will be eternal. That is reality, whether you accept it or not.

            Imagine that.

          • Anticrime_OCD

            I love it! Absolute truth in a supernatural being? Gotta love it! Okay, that’s what I love about religion, because it is just hurting itself with these consequences of eternal damnation. Threats, are so motivating, hahaha! I just love that all empowering loving god you worship so much. Not really, I’m teasing of course:) You know what kind of threats a non-believer has to believers if they don’t stop going to church or stop believing in a god? That’s just it, I don’t know of any either. Yeah, that’s right. For not believing in religion or god from a non-believer, there are no really scary burring in hell type threats.

            But what I can say is this: you will enjoy a less stressful life by not worrying about those “consequences” after you die. Ever wonder why it’s always after you die? And not now when you can actually prove it will happen? Since you no longer spend so much energy on the make believe, you now have more time to spend with family and friends, woo hoo! Giving you more opportunity to enjoy them, you know, actually tangible human interaction that is real. You get to spend more time loving the people in your life that really do make a difference in the now.

            So lets review for just a second: You say you have this loving relationship with a god, who cares so much about you and promises you so much after you die as long as you spend time worshiping him and doing what he says. But if you don’t narcissistically worship him, you will have sequences like rotting in hell for an eternal time after you die. Oh yeah, I can see how that’s so loving. And you say this is absolute truth, but you don’t have tangible evidence. Oh yeah, that sounds so inviting and comforting…not!
            I say you live your life based on reason and logic, i.e., treating others humanly, fairly, lovingly and equally. You know, kinda altruistically, doing good onto others because it makes you feel good, not because you are threatened by damnation to eternal hell. All without this weight on your mind telling you if you don’t there will be consequences. Having more time to spend with loved ones, because you spend less time worshipping something else. Yeah, to me, my loved ones are worth more than anything else. I choose to give my time to them, and guess what, that makes me happy, them happy, which happens to be very rewarding. And, that is what I call a healthy relationship!! Good luck in your afterlife, I choose this life! Yes, I am done, if you don’t understand by now. That’s okay, I don’t have any threats for you, except best of luck. I have life to go and enjoy!

  • Austinne

    Anti crime:
    What you criticize is a caricature of religion… A straw man. Read Peter Kreeft, CS Lewis, Robert Spitzer, Lee Strobel, and/or Francis Collins. If you are not willing to study the best arguments, you may be afraid you may be wrong and who knows where that might take you.