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Family Planning

The Giver

Plot Overview

“From the ashes of The Ruin, community was built, protected by The Boundary,” the narrator describes his futuristic society in which people have forgotten all their heritage and live by a strict set of rules that keep them if not quite happy, then docile to a fault. We follow the lives of teen­agers Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) and his two friends Fiona (Odeya Rush) and Asher (Cameron Monaghan) as they leave their “child­hood”—no messy adolescence to inter­vene—to receive their assigned jobs—the elders decide; there is no trouble­some competition. “Tomorrow we'll be assigned our jobs,” they say. Today they promise each other, “Friends forever!” Yes, we'll see how that works out.

At the big Ceremony some oldsters are first thanked for their service and consigned to Elsewhere, what we might call The Great Beyond. No trouble­some old age and its demands. Fiona's assignment is to be a Nurturer (of new­born infants.) Babies in this society are produced by Birth Mothers through some artificial process that doesn't involve having sex. Then if the kids are strong enough, they are assigned to families. Weak infants, well there's lots of room for them in Else­where, down the chute. Asher is assigned as a drone pilot. In this total surveil­lance, totally controlled society, there is no crime, but it doesn't hurt to take precautions. One other precaution they take is to assign one person in a generation to be a Receiver of “the secret history of the world” so he can advise the elders in case they need to be aware of some­thing from the past. Jonas is so well rounded he's the one chosen. He begins his training.

When Jonas learns about love and marriage, and that their daily injections inhibit feelings, he contrives to defeat the machine and system­atic­ally skip his injections. He develops feelings for Fiona who wonders, “Why are you acting so weird?” After he explains about feelings, “some­thing that has been stolen from me and you,” he convinces her to stop her daily injections, too. Then once she has emotions, how is she going to be able to abort those babies? Further­more, how is the couple going to avoid getting caught in this total surveillance society that has the rule of “no touching out­side of family members”?

Jonas is shocked to learn about war and its images of gooks shooting from the trees. The Chief Elder (Meryl Streep) learns about the two love­birds and puts out a hit with Asher on his buddy Jonas who is fleeing to The Boundary to let in knowledge of war, I think. In my generation young men in the U.S. fled for the border of Canada to escape being drafted into the Vietnam War, not just to avoid images of it. Those intrusive memories got in the way of my following the plot, so I'm not sure if any­thing ever gets resolved in this story, or in real life.


Jonas is trained in a set-apart building with shelves lined with curious objects: “They're called books, … your books.” Although his sessions with The Giver (Jeff Bridges) involve the old man imparting sensations to Jonas through a process reminiscent of a Vulcan mind meld, it's easy for us to remove the sci-fi element and see in this story an allegory to gaining knowledge through the reading of books. His first impartation shows him arriving in his imagin­ation at a cottage in which is heard the singing of “Silent Night.” This being a traditional song, we may take the allegory to be about religious tradition, the need to remember it some­how. In this story about obviating differences of any kind, it seems religious differences are singled out, because table grace is replaced by a sharing of feelings, one step beyond the moment of silence to remove any hint of a deity, so nobody will be offended.

Now, I'm thinking maybe I should take a look at my own religion to see if this story applies, and I find on the heritage page of my church's web­site, that my “Church has its heritage rooted in ‘The Restoration Movement’ which began in the mid-nine­teenth century in America. ¶“At that time, the church in America was divided along a variety of denom­in­ational and sub-denom­in­ational lines. Many minis­ters and church mem­bers had grown tired of the disunity so common among churches of that day. In response, they began to take the Bible alone as a Christian's sole authority and started a movement of independent Bible-based churches.” Okay, the Bible is our literature from which we derive any major tradition. The Protestant divisions would correspond to The Ruin in the movie. Further­more “Silent Night” (German: Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht) was composed in 1818, confirming our time­frame. In our Sunday School class we studied the history of the English Bible, going over a lecture by Prof. George P. Marsh given in 1859 (pub. 1861) on the English Bible, in which he stated, concerning the King James Version (KJV),

The dialect of the English Bible is also the dialect of devotion and of relig­ious instruction wherever the English language is spoken, and all denomina­tions sub­stan­tially agree in their sacred phrase­ology, with what­ever difference in inter­pre­tation. There are always possi­bilities of reconcil­iation, sym­pathies even, be­tween men who, in matters of high concern­ment, habitually use the same words, and appeal to the same formulas; whereas a difference of language and of symbols creates an almost impassable gulf between man and man.

He concluded, “I see no sufficient present [1859] reasons for a new translation, or even for a revision, of the authorized version of the Bible.” His (good) advice was precipitously ignored, so in 1881–85 we got the English Revised Version, in 1901 the American Standard Version, in 1952 the Revised Standard Version (RSV), in 1982 the New King James Version, and so on. It's this kind of extreme remedy that breeds utopian plots in movies such as this one. In a more moderate vein, there was a new edition of the KJV being the Cambridge Paragraph Bible of 1873, widely ignored although Zondervan published it as a Gift Bible in 2002—they're hard to get, but I have a copy. And in 2005, rev. 2011, we have The New Cambridge Paragraph Bible that makes any minor adjustments to the KJV needed—I have one and my church library has one.

On our church website is listed our: Service Times: Traditional 9:30 am, Contemporary 11:00 am. What traditional version is used? It varies, but the latest I see [site accessed 9/20/2014] is the English Standard Version (ESV), about as traditional as we ever get; see our listed sermons. The ESV site describes its traditional roots: “The ESV Bible carries forward the trusted legacy of the Bible in English—the legacy established first in the Tyndale New Testament (1526) and the KJV Bible (1611).” Then they get to: "THE ESV AND THE KJV: A COMPARISON:"

The English language has changed over the centuries, and modern readers find the KJV's archaic words and sentence structures difficult to understand. Through­out the course of the twentieth century, it became clear that Bible readers needed a translation they could easily understand, resulting in a proliferation of Bible translations.

Here is where the rub comes in. All those archaic words and such. According to Prof. Marsh,

the English Bible sustains, and always has sustained to the general English tongue, the position of a treatise upon a special know­ledge requiring, like any branch of science, a special nomen­clature and phrase­ology. The language of the law, for example, in both vocabu­lary and structure, differs widely from that of unpro­fes­sional life; the language of medicine, of meta­physics, of astronomy, of chemistry, of mechanical art, all these have their approp­riate idioms, very diverse from the speech which is the common heri­tage of all. Why, then, should theology, the highest of know­ledges, alone be required to file her tongue to the vulgar utterance, when every other human interest has its own approp­riate expression, which no man thinks of conforming to a standard that, because it is too common, can hardly be other than unclean?

This restricting of language is what might be included in the apostle Paul's statement, (2 Cor. 6:12-13) “Ye are not straitened in us, but ye are straitened in your own bowels. Now for a recompence in the same, … be ye also enlarged.” What the movie might call “some­thing that has been stolen from me and you,” are those magnifi­cent old words that convey such a depth of emotion, what the movie calls “more,” what the apostle calls being “enlarged.” As for the ESV's assumption that “Through­out the course of the twentieth century, it became clear that Bible readers needed a translation they could easily under­stand” resulting in retrans­lations, Marsh didn't think so in the 19th century, and what he said seems to me to apply in the 20th.

Thinking like an engineer (my field) I used a model to demonstrate a complex system: I found me a church where every single member, even dividing between husband and wife, was of a different (Protestant) denomination/affiliation, but we all used the KJV, except for the pastor who used the RSV.. I was the oldest in the Lord (except for one other man who hardly ever came.) We had group discussions on our beliefs. I found that it was possible with patience to bring around those who had peculiar beliefs from their own denominations until the pastor tried to manage with his RSV., and then we lost them. On the legacy page of the ESV they tried to portray their version in an historical line with the KJV, but on their licensing page is stated: “The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (ESV) is adapted from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible.” So I'm going to have to reject it from fulfilling a traditional place, at least in a church that espouses unity among Protestant denominations.

My engineering perspective makes it hard for people to talk to me. Leaves me a little isolated here in my views, just as Jonas was isolated. My best course of action is self-improve­ment, associating on the fringe of groups who use the KJV, just as Jonas might do best attaching himself to some group outside his city, which sings the right song, “Silent Night, Holy Night,” or as Paul puts it, (2 Cor. 7:1) “perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”

Production Values

“The Giver” (2014) is a 97 min. drama / sci-fi movie about a well-rounded individual who receives a position of responsibility in a utopian society only to find him­self at odds with the others. It started as a children's story in Lois Lowry's Newbery-Medal–winning novel The Giver, but the children characters were aged a few years to introduce an element of romance and more mature adult decisions. It was directed by Phillip Noyce. The screen­play was written by Michael Mitnick and Robert B. Weide. It stars Brenton Thwaites, Jeff Bridges, and Meryl Streep. Streep was suit­ably cold and distant as the head elder. Brenton Thwaites handled his role of awakening as well as could be expected with a script that made him advance awfully fast. Jeff Bridges shone as a wizened old man in a special post. The rest of the zombies were suitably dead. Pop singer Taylor Swift appeared in a cameo playing the piano as a beginner.

A principal device used was fading from B&W to color as characters developed emotion. The Motion Picture (MPAA Rating is PG–13 for a mature thematic image and some sci-fi action/violence. It was filmed in Cape Town, South Africa giving it some moody back­drops. The cinema­tog­raphy is clean and crisp, the music is haunting, and the set design and technology depiction are nicely done. Kudos on the baby scenes.

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

The story is simply told as it was developed from a children's novel. I enjoyed it even though it struck close to home making me examine my religious traditions. The ceremonial demise of the elderly and infants contrasted to a memory of war, which might leave some uneasy, but these "nice" utopias are supposed to harbor flaws. It was nicely done and should appeal to a large audience.

Movie Ratings

Action factor: Well done action flick. Suitability for Children: Suitable for children 13+ years. Special effects: Well done special effects. Video Occasion: Good for Groups. Suspense: Suspenseful towards the end. Overall product rating: Four stars out of five.