“Daddy, it’s The Giver!” Liz said when we found the DVD for a thousand shillings, about 40 Canadian cents, at a hole-in-the-wall movie stand across the road from the edge of the university.
At home, we saw it even worked, never a guarantee with these sorts of Ugandan movie outlets.
For those not familiar with the original Lois Lowry book, The Giver is a story about what happens when people try to make a world that’s perfect, one that is void of pain or discomfort or inconvenience but one that is also void of anything that resembles the colour and variety of life.
Yes, this is what everyone in The Giver is made for, what they’re all living to attain – Sameness.
Everything, but everything, is controlled: from what family you grow up in, to what you do as a career, to what your manicured and bland neighbourhood looks like, to the even the perfectly-modified weather. (Sorry to have to mention this, Canada.)
This is life somewhere down the road, about 2048. It’s to make everyone happy.
Babies who don’t meet the standard, by the way, are spoken to with great affection while they’re injected in the head, put in a white box, and sent, still warm but very dead, down a chute otherwise well-suited for dirty laundry.
One day Jonas, the youngster who is called to somehow save his community from itself, the one who can return the community’s memories of a more colourful and alive time, asks this: “If you can’t feel, what’s the point?”
He learns that when pain is forgotten, so is the rest of life, the joy and the the love and the million other intangibles that make us human. And for this we don’t need to project into 2048, but rather just look to today’s debate on assisted suicide.
Of course, my kids don’t have any idea of drama behind a movie like this: Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges acting together for the first time (Bridges had wanted to make the movie for 20 years) … even if they did appreciate a cameo at the piano by Taylor Swift.
More important, my kids do know what this movie is getting at. This is especially since they heard the audio book version some months ago — early morning school runs are good for such eye-opening listens — and maybe it’s also because kids seem to know or at least feel these truths intuitively.
This I found the other evening when after the show we all — the Children’s Mother included — talked about it. The kids were as animated and astute as ever, knowing what’s fake and what’s real, who is fake and who is real, and that you can’t stop the world’s pain any more than you can stop a bloody knee after falling off your bike.
It’s when we grow up when we somehow forget this, when we choose to stop riding our bikes and choose to stop anything else, including life itself, in our efforts to stops that terrible pain. And in doing so these grown-ups, it seems to me, suffer a numbing fate that’s far worse.
As it turns out it was the same day we watched The Giver when The Spectator published a column I wrote on these sorts of thoughts as they relate to the assisted suicide discussion back in Canada.
And as they relate to some pain in my own personal story.
You can find the column here.