Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Movie Manages to Ennoble Terrors

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Movie Manages to Ennoble Terrors

Article excerpt

In 1993, Lois Lowry wrote a slim book for youth about totalitarianism, euthanasia, suicide, sexual awakening and infanticide. "The Giver" created a blooming genre -- the dystopian youth novel -- and considerable controversy. Some parents wanted the book banned from schools, thus unintentionally re-asking the book's central question: How comprehensively should children be protected from risk and pain?

Now "The Giver" has been given the full Hollywood treatment: the biggest stars (Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep), winsome young actors and a small but important role for singer Taylor Swift.

"The Giver" remains, however, an odd candidate for a blockbuster. "Not much happens," Lowry observed to me in a phone interview. Or, more precisely, much of what happens is an interior moral struggle. The protagonist, Jonas, inhabits an orderly, polite, egalitarian world of enforced "sameness." Even the ability to see color has been eliminated. Family units are assigned. Teen sexual urges -- "the stirrings" -- are dulled with daily pills. There is no more war, hunger or avoidable pain, and their memory has been erased.

But to make wise communal decisions, someone must be the bearer of all the memories. Jonas is chosen, and discovers the banishment of pain and difference has also involved the banishment of beauty, art, music and love. He stops taking his pills. And he discovers that the utilitarianism of his community involves the emotionless murder of the elderly and imperfect newborns. Without spoiling the plot, it is enough to say that Jonas defies the authority of the Elders -- expressing teen rebellion in the causes of memory, family bonds, human dignity and authentic emotion.

"The Giver" will provoke political commentary. Few movies make a stronger case for the value of diversity. No movie, in my memory, involves a more explicit depiction of infanticide, conducted at the Nurturing Center by Jonas' father with a horrifying cheerfulness.

Yet the story is less a social statement than a philosophic one. …

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