Imagine that someone floated the idea of making a pro-life movie starring Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep, with smaller roles for Katie Holmes and Taylor Swift.
That movie would starkly contrast a rich, full life of love, family, risk and heroism, and the shallow, narrow, cowardly existence offered by our high-tech Culture of Death.
Dangerous choices would face a young hero who learns that he lives in a deeply sick society. And the movie’s treatment of love and romance would help make the story irresistible to teenage girls—the people most at risk for being pressured to have abortions.
In fact, to seal the deal, the movie would be based on a young adult classic that millions of teens are already reading in school. It sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Like some fantasy that a failed screenwriter would spin out over coffee after church.
But the movie I just described is real. Its title is “The Giver,” and it opened Friday at theaters across the United States.
“The Giver” is moving, tense, and thoughtful, a kind of a “Brave New World” for 2014. Its characters inhabit a stripped down, manicured, post-apocalyptic suburb completely controlled by a benevolent nanny-state. Its leader, played by Meryl Streep, sent shivers down my spine with her mixture of fuzzy maternal concern and steely will to power. When I saw her, I muttered under my breath, “That is President Hillary Clinton.”
Streep leads a Council of Elders whose job it is to maintain the obedient calm of a utopian city-state. Children are genetically engineered for perfect health, and assigned to appropriate “nurturers.” Each high school graduate is assigned a job for the rest of his life—no messy, wasted years spent “finding oneself,” or painful failures in business or careers.
The free market has been completely replaced by the state, as every meaningful personal choice has been surrendered to the Elders, whose friendly paternalism suggests a team of United Nations philanthropy execs, or the heads of some post-Christian liberal church.
And the Elders mean well—they really do. They have founded this perfect society, in the wake of some unnamed social catastrophe, with the goal of uprooting every cause of human suffering. Like philosopher kings, they have founded a Republic that embodies their vision of the Good, and formed their citizens into cheerful, compliant workers.
No one is very happy, but no one is ever tortured by depression, hatred, or rage. There is no crime, no violence, no prayer. Extreme behavior is made impossible by the daily injections each person takes, which suppress all strong emotions. That includes “love,” of course. Couples live together and seem to really like each other. They shared prepackaged food at pristine dinner tables, and engage in scheduled periods of “sharing” the mild feelings which they experienced throughout the day.
Things seem as if they have always been this way, and could well go on forever—in a black-and-white godless heaven carefully engineered here on earth, much like the utopia dreamed up by the young Karl Marx.
Errors are quickly corrected. “Defective” babies and old people, dissenters and those who refuse to take their medicine, are “assigned to elsewhere”—which means being painlessly put to death with a simple injection. But that seems a small price to pay for preserving this perfect calm and rational order.
To make this perfection possible, the Elders have erased all memories of man’s past. Old books and movies have disappeared, and no one knows or even wonders about their birth parents, much less their ancestors. No one dreams of their descendants.
Each soul lives in a seemingly tranquil eternal present—with all the blankness and blandness that you would expect. Katie Holmes is transcendently creepy as the ideal post-human soccer mom—I wonder if she took this role to tweak the Scientologist brainwashing that she endured and later escaped. Alexander Skarsgård does a yeoman’s job playing her clueless, well-meaning consort.
But the Elders are wise, so very wise. They know that they need the lessons of history to draw on when they make important decisions. So with each generation they designate one person to be the Receiver of Memories, to live in an isolated house (it looks like a broken down Greek temple) stuffed with dusty old books. His mind is likewise stuffed full of the bitter memories of man’s past—experiences of war, of genocide, of racial conflict, passionate love, and faith in God. When they face a question their social algorithms cannot answer, the Elders consult the Receiver.
The current Receiver (played powerfully by Jeff Bridges) is getting old, and it is time to train his replacement. The movie tells what happens when a young man (Brendan Thwaites) who was formed in this Subhumanist utopia learns the truth. When he stops taking his meds and learns what it means to fall in love. When he finds out what happens to “defective” babies. When he decides to rebel.
The movie is already under attack, subject to predictable sneers from secular critics, who know good and well what the movie is about, and are keen to stamp “The Giver” out before it became a brushfire.
According to Rotten Tomatoes, only 31 percent of critics like the movie—compared to 71 percent of audiences. Such a disconnect sometimes means that a movie is stupid, and appeals to the low instincts of moviegoers, but not to sophisticated critics.
The opposite is true of “The Giver,” which taps into the deep, complex worldview that millions of Christians have inherited, and offends the brittle, shallow humanitarian liberalism of critics.
Go see it. Bring your teenagers with you—they will love it, and not even mind that they’re learning from it.
Make “The Giver” a hit. Then maybe Hollywood will go on making more such movies that tell the truth.
John Zmirak is co-author, with Jason Jones, of “The Race to Save Our Century.”
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