Love. Hate. Success. Failure. Temperaments. Talents. Handicaps. Experiences. Burdens. Color. Music. Differences. They are (contrary to cotton’s claim) the fabric of our lives.
Imagine a world where all this is turned off, suppressed in a manufactured semblance of order. There is no “I love you.” There is no “Be not afraid.” There are no choices. There is no uncertainty. There are no questions. There are prescriptions and the eradication of weakness and pain.
You can see how it might be a temptation. As amazing as the human person is, we don’t always choose the good, and we are capable of terrible things. If there is no love, there is no heartache. If there is no gain, there is no loss. There is no need for courage if there is no fear.
And, after all, “People are weak.”
“People are selfish.”
“When people have the freedom to choose, they choose wrong every single time.”
These could be the weary observations of a CNN viewer watching the world looking to be falling apart. These are the declarations of Meryl Streep’s character in the new movie The Giver (opens August 15), based on the bestselling children’s book by Lois Lowry.
The Giver, as it happens, is our gift of the summer.
As all good art does, it takes us out of ourselves to see. We want love, we want flourishing, we want freedom. We want to know one another and help one another choose the good. We want to see beautiful things, and this exquisite movie delivers this.
The Giver begins without color. Because the world of The Giver is one without color. It is a world of people who don’t know the possibilities of humanity. Climate control keeps children from the joys of snow and sledding. Babies are engineered, born to surrogates, and assigned to families. Love is an antiquated word with no meaning to anyone any more.
Again, you can see the temptation, for a world that has been known to lose sight of what love is, too wounded by the evil that men do, too used to settling for something short of it.
Throughout The Giver, as the characters rediscover wonder — of Creation and that most incredible creation, the human person, in all its dignity and possibility for receiving and giving love — it engenders a gratitude about life.
There are unmistakable messages in The Giver about the dangers of surrendering freedom, of believing that government exists to perfect us, of thinking that life can be lived fully without risk and pain and suffering. The gift of The Giver is something good and true and beautiful about what is good and true and beautiful in humanity.
This can still happen in a movie theater!
In the first part of The Giver, we see the wretched souls in a society where the relationship between a mother and child is severed, where women are no longer free to nurture the innocent into their best selves. There is a deadening that sets in and spreads like a cancer when the strong no longer protect the weak and the gifts of the essential freedom and dignity and responsibilities of stewardship give way to idols of faux security. We become indifferent, believing the lie that there is nothing we can do to make things better for anyone in dire straits. We forget our own capacity for giving, perhaps having been hurt while receiving. We settle for lives that are not fully alive. We hide behind screens and miss the joys of life.
As one character is being prepared for her “release” — this is a society that eliminates children who didn’t turn out as ordered, the elderly, and the troublesome — she gives stirring testimony: “I know there is something more.” Something is missing, she says. Something has been stolen.
Stolen from the world of The Giver are love and beauty and authenticity. Its people have become too numb to see.
The Giver has the power to keep us honest about who we are and who we want to be. It’s about faith, family, hope, and love. It’s about refusing to surrender to lies — even the best-intentioned ones, even ones coming from people we love and respect. It’s about treasuring life and relishing our unique gifts and quirks and challenges. It shows the glorious strength that can build in a man when he knows the love of a father.
The Giver is a journey into the center of the Law of the Gift: “We are at our best, we are most fully alive and human, when we give away freely and sacrificially our very selves in love for another,” wrote St. John Paul II, a man of deep faith and bold courage.
If love is our purpose and destiny, The Giver leaves us wanting nothing less. A movie cannot free us from fear but it can take us out of ourselves and our drowning in overstimulation to see how one “Silent Night” — a self-giving — can change the world. Cherishing the gifts we have been given, seeing them as they are, having faith in something more, sharing in thanksgiving — this is the life The Giver celebrates. It serves as a caution, too. May we never let ourselves be robbed of it.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review Online, and founding director of Catholic Voices USA. This column is based on one available exclusively through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.