Editor's Note: This column contains spoilers and plot details for the upcoming movie The Giver.
With his approval numbers sinking to 39 percent a week ago, according to the Gallup tracking poll, President Obama isn't alone in having a bad summer. So is Hollywood.
Entertainment Weekly calls gross receipts for what should have been a blockbuster July 4-6 weekend "downright terrifying." Writes EW, "Not only were grosses down 45 percent from last year's holiday, according to Boxofficemojo.com, but it was Hollywood's worst July 4 weekend since 1999. (And that's not taking into account inflation. In fact, this was the worst July-holiday weekend for ticket sales since the summer of 'Dragnet' in 1987.)"
Arriving in theaters next week is a film that could reverse the trend. It's called "The Giver," based on the best-selling novel by Lois Lowry, which won the 1994 Newbery Medal. The film has an A-list cast, comprised of Meryl Streep, Jeff Bridges, Katie Holmes and Taylor Swift.
For those unfamiliar with the book, the storyline depicts what occurs when a society deliberately destroys its social and moral foundations for a "higher purpose." It is "Brave New World" meets "The Matrix" with a dash of "The Stepford Wives" thrown in. In the film, a teenage boy named Jonas (Hollywood aged the main characters for dramatic effect, they were younger in Lowry's book) is the main character through whom the story is told. Jonas lives in a futuristic society in which all war, hatred and pain have been expunged. Even prejudice has been eliminated. So has love. There is no competition and everyone looks and acts alike. Apologies abound (as do acceptances of apologies) to the point of insincerity. When a child reaches age 16, he or she is assigned a job. Spouses are assigned and couples are allowed just two children. They are born to "Birthmothers" who never see them, and spend their first year in something called a Nurturing Center with other babies, or "newchildren."
The website Sparknotes expands on the plot: "When their children are grown, family units dissolve and adults live together with Childless Adults until they are too old to function in the society. Then they spend their last years being cared for in the House of the Old until they are finally 'released' from the society." Released is a euphemism for euthanasia.
The "Giver," played by Jeff Bridges, is the keeper of memories. He remembers a time when people loved, were ambitious and enjoyed personal freedom. He passes along those memories to Jonas, who bravely rediscovers his humanity with all its flaws and joys.
All movies have a "message." "The Giver" has a message for contemporary American culture. As we have thrown off all restraint, individualized morality and considered every idea as having equal value, "The Giver" shows where this could ultimately lead.
I was skeptical when I first heard about the film because it is distributed by The Weinstein Company, run by brothers Bob and Harvey (Harvey is a big Obama supporter), but became less so when I learned that Walden Media produced it. Walden Media, an entertainment company that specializes in family-oriented material, gave us the Oscar-winning "Ray" and "The Chronicles of Narnia" series.
At the end of "The Matrix," Neo says: "I didn't come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came here to tell you how this is going to begin. Now, I'm going to hang up this phone, and I'm going to show these people what you don't want them to see. I'm going to show them a world without you ... a world without rules and controls, without borders or boundaries, a world where anything is possible."
"The Giver" echoes a similar theme. It is entertaining, but also instructive. It's time to seriously think about where we're headed. "The Giver" shows us in ways few movies do.