If the sparse morning matinee audience at Murrieta’s California Oaks theater is any indication, Southlanders have little interest in or knowledge about “The Giver,” a philosophically-compelling film starring Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep. That’s a shame given the flick’s dramatic broadside against the kind of ruthless conformity that permeates college campuses and today’s mainstream media.
Despite the lip-service those institutions regularly give to “diversity,” the truth is that both groups embrace an ideology of fierce intolerance according to which persons of every religion, ethnicity, race, and sexual orientation are expected to accept (not just “tolerate”) the same egalitarian, climate-change, pro-choice views of limousine liberals in coastal California. The only “diversity” these politically correct folks embrace concerns things like dress, cuisine, and customs drained of substance. (Thus, Christmas becomes a secular holiday about a chubby guy at the North Pole, and Easter revolves around an egg-dispersing bunny-rabbit.)
Based on a children’s book written by Lois Lowry and published in 1993, “The Giver” stands in the tradition of Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” (1932) – a novel in which a few elites employ genetics, drugs, and conditioning to create a perfectly pacific society.
The movie also represents a more compelling version of the managed utopia theme that Ed Harris and Jim Carrey brought to life in “The Truman Show.” Unlike the latter film, however, there isn’t a trace of humor in “The Giver.” Instead, human hate and violence are graphically, though briefly, portrayed alongside their much-valued counterparts: love, deep emotion, and cultural variety.
Meryl Streep personifies and verbally defends the perfectly regulated and peaceful village in which everyone is equal—except for those “elders” who are, as Orwell put it, “more equal than others.” In her ominous role Streep bears an eerie resemblance, both visually and philosophically, to Hillary Clinton—vastly more than the winsome Tea Leoni ever could as CBS’s “Madame Secretary.”
On the other side of the film’s dramatic divide stands a disheveled Jeff Bridges, “The Giver” who transmits to his young charge (Brendon Thwaites) the knowledge and experiences of otherwise unknown societies where deep emotions and free choices are cherished despite their painful and often destructive corollaries.
The comfortable conformity of Streep’s well-regulated society is depicted in various ways: painfully symmetrical community organization, unembellished architecture, uniform dress, and prescribed daily routines that extend even to meals and bedtimes. Cinematically, black and white images are employed to reflect the lack of emotion and chromatic perception among these docile, healthy servants of the state.
Inevitably, the society’s all-powerful rulers also take upon themselves life and death decisions—all for the good of the thoroughly-surveilled population, of course. Accordingly, the words “die” and “kill” aren’t employed. Instead, the elderly and babes who don’t measure up to the rulers’ benevolent standards are “released”—the former after a community ceremony praising their contributions and implying they’ll soon be headed for a benign future, not a lethal needle. Babies, on the other hand, are similarly disposed of but in sterile medical facilities with no fanfare or compunction.
Though I would have preferred a climax that didn’t require so much suspension of disbelief with respect to minor details (Police-state enforcers, for example, aren’t usually so incompetent.) these distractions don’t obviate the value of this chilling portrait of a pleasant utopian society to which, unfortunately, this country has been moving—the price of which is our very humanity.
“The Giver” warns us to reject this all-too-appealing disaster.