Editor's note: This article is cross-posted at JohnHanlonReviews.com
The first amendment to the Constitution prevents the federal government from infringing on five fundamental freedoms. The amendment states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Those are basic freedoms we all enjoy as Americans and ones that are often still under assault (the incidents this week in Ferguson, Missouri prove that).
They are also freedoms denied to the inhabitants of the world featured in the new movie The Giver. Adapted from Lois Lowry’s young adult novel of the same name, the film tells the story of a Community (capitalized in the book and film) that has been “protected” from the messiness of freedom. The staunch Chief Elder (Meryl Streep) and her fellow Elders — the leaders of this world— have chosen to keep the people unenlightened about their past and the freedoms they once enjoyed.
The people, including main character Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) believe that the limited world of controlled information they live in is all there ever was. It’s not stated outright but one can assume that religions don’t exist in this world (things that differentiate people from each other — like race and ethnicity — are forbidden). Freedom of speech is clearly looked down upon (Jonas’ mother, for one, reminds Jonas of the importance of “precision of language” when any word she hears isn’t exact). Freedom of the press is also a distant memory (with Jonas not knowing what books are when the story begins).
And the right to peaceably assemble and petition the government? Forget about it. Those who think differently or don’t fit into the perfect mold of the Community (one boy and one girl for each family unit with twins being forbidden), they get released (read: killed).
As the story begins, Jonas doesn’t realize that he lives in a brutal dictatorship but when he’s chosen to become the new Receiver of Memory, he starts learning about the past (something no one ever discusses) and the freedoms that we as Americans so often take for granted. Jeff Bridges, starring as the Giver, starts showing Jonas that freedom once existed and differences were once celebrated, not eliminated.
Of course, through these memories Jonas sees the wrong choices often have terrible consequences. “When people have the freedom to choose, they choose wrong,” the Chief Elder notes in her defense of the status quo. In witnessing the past, Jonas sees brutality and hatred and repression and he can’t bear some of it. But he realizes that even though people sometimes make the wrong choices, they should be given the freedom to have the choice.
It’s never clear where the Community exists but the story’s themes are abundantly clear. It is a movie that celebrates life (Jonas’ mission towards the end includes saving a baby who would otherwise be killed). It is also a movie that celebrates differences. But it is at its heart a timely and urgent movie that celebrates freedom and subtly shows what the world would look like if we as Americans lost the freedoms that the founders intended for us to have.