Katie Holmes

The Giver — Love, Choice, and the Limits of Perfection

“If the world were perfect, it wouldn’t be,” as Yogi Berra once said. If you want to understand what this means, go see The Giver.

The Giver is in the great dystopian tradition of Animal Farm and 1984, Brave New World, Atlas Shrugged, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, and so many more. (It also evoked for me memories of the Ring cycle and Lord of the Rings.) It takes place in a “perfect” society that has eliminated  war, pain, suffering, differences and choice. They have created a society where everyone is equal (except those who are “more equal,” of course), and everything is the same. Your job, your clothes, and all other aspects of your existence are chosen for you. The society’s byword is sameness, in which they see safety and liberation from all the evils of human history. Even the climate is controlled.

They also control the language. For example, they have abolished killing; instead they “release” people “to Elsewhere.” By controlling the words that people use, they control the ability to hold certain thoughts, and as we know, thoughts are the cornerstone of conditions. What we focus on expands in our experience, so if you can control the expression of ideas, you can limit the focus. (In many ways, “political correctness” does this.)

A young boy named Jonas is chosen to be the Receiver of Memories, a position wherein he will be called upon to impart wisdom to the Elders, using “the Memories”, including the collected memory of humankind. He is trained for this by the older receiver of Memories. “If I’m The Receiver,” Jonas asks his teacher, “what does that make you?” The reply is, “I guess it makes me The Giver.”

The training, he is warned, will require a lot of strength, because it entails a lot of pain. The pain isn’t so much physical as the psychic and emotional pain brought on by “the Memories.” But what Jonas also discovers is the importance of love, beauty, and all those other “things that make us human.” He is determined to share what he is learning and feeling, even though that is against the rules. He also falls in love with his beautiful friend Fiona, who does not know what to make of this.

In order to reawaken the Memories (and the feelings they entail), he must cross the border of memory. By reawakening the Memories, he can reawaken the ability of the people to live life full out, restoring the joy, love, and beauty that their utopia has taken from them. As Fiona says, “I know that there is more, but I don’t know what it is.”

At one level, this is a brilliant political commentary on freedom, individual expression, and utopianism. That Jonas’s friend, Asher, is a drone pilot is not merely a literary device. But there are spiritual lessons as well.

While Jonas is in training, The Giver tells him not to trust the limited thoughts that have been given to him, but to trust what is inside. Learning to trust our intuition is a key to spiritual advancement. It is one of the most important ways to allow ourselves live in joy, in the fullest expression of who we are and who we are supposed to be.

The Chief Elder at one point says that “when people are free to choose, they choose wrong.” And it is true that sometimes people make choices that do not serve themselves or others. But one person’s wrong choice is another person’s right one. More importantly, if people cannot choose wrongly, then they are not free to choose rightly, and it is the choices we make that define our lives.

In such a perfectly-ordered society, there is no room for beauty or love or any of “the things that make us human.” And yet, these things are central to our humanity. They are central to living the most elevated, human, passionate life that we can. Jonas’s struggle is to restore those things, for himself and for the society.

It is also a society with no diversity. Sameness precludes living your individual purpose and calling, which is essential to the joyful life.

It is that passionate life that enables us to reach for the greater, the richer, the deeper. And that is at the very core of our humanity, as expressions of the Divine.

This is a movie well worth seeing. It’s exciting, stimulating, touching, and very powerful

-Tim Phares, RScP