Film Review – Religious Imagery in “The Giver”

Giver Pic

 

 

Though there will always be critics who lament that a film hasn’t done justice to a well-beloved novel, the fine acting and religious symbolism of The Giver make this a film worth seeing.

Based on the bestselling novel by Lois Lowry, director Phillip Noyce has done an excellent job with this August 2014 release, which is now available on iTunes. Though we had not read the book and were not familiar with the story, my wife and I both enjoyed the film immensely. Not only does The Giver introduce us to a dystopian world that feels completely possible in our own near future, but it deals with powerful religious concepts such as free will that will have you talking – and thinking – for days to come.

Of course, great acting across the board gives any film the polish it needs to make a lasting impression. Brenton Thwaites is fun to watch as the wide-eyed youth who discovers the deep beauty of the human experience for the first time, and Jeff Bridges comes through once again as The Giver, a mentor who gently shares his wisdom to gradually shape a young soul. My favorite performance of all, however, was Meryl Streep’s portrayal of the Chief Elder. I’ll admit that I’m a hopeless Meryl Streep fan, but the gravity of her presence and the intensity of her haunted gaze will draw you into the depths of this tale, helping you understand how these people came to be this way and giving credibility to the premise of the film.

As far as the religious imagery is concerned, I don’t think I’m dreaming up the spiritual connections here. Religious symbols are put on prominent display throughout the film, though what it all means is left up to the viewers to decide.

Here are my thoughts:

 

Beware the Red Apple

Just as Snow White learned to be wary of a bright red apple, we should also be careful in the way we discuss this symbol from the film. As the lead character, Jonas, discovers color for the first time, the first object he notices is a bright red apple. He then commits an act of disobedience which leads to the eyes of many people being opened. Is he a hero or a villain? “I’ll let you decide,” he says as part of the film’s opening lines.

There is an obvious correlation between this and the biblical story of Adam and Eve, where Adam and Eve are tempted to eat a forbidden apple in order for them to gain a higher knowledge. But here is where we must tread carefully… there are several key differences between these stories which must be pointed out, especially to those who’ve seen the movie and only have a minimal understanding of the Bible.

First, it was never God’s intention to withhold life’s pleasures from us. Instead, Genesis 1:31 tells us that God saw all that he had made, and “behold, it was very good.” God invented color, music, excitement, adventure, and love, and always intended for us to enjoy these gifts to the fullest. While on earth, Jesus explained to his disciples why He taught them the things He did: “I have spoken these things to you so that My joy may be in you and your joy may be complete” (John 15:11). By following Christ’s commands and living the Christian life we don’t give up our joy. Instead, we complete our joy by becoming the men and women God always intended for us to be.

In this film the actions of Jonas bring pain and sorrow, but they also bring the ability to find love and deep joy, making the decision necessary. It was not necessary, however, for Adam and Eve to take the forbidden apple in order to find real joy. Rather, they lived in a perfect Paradise and had been given life’s greatest wonders already. It was their decision to take the apple that wasn’t theirs and try to steal knowledge from God that clouded their vision and introduced sin and heartache into the human experience.

 

A Powerful Case for Life

The Giver makes a bold pro-life statement, and this is something I really appreciated about it, especially in today’s culture. The society in which Jonas lives has become so desensitized to death that they execute infants and senior adults without a second thought. The film reveals how horrific this is as Jonas realizes how precious the lives are that are being snuffed out, and he risks everything to change this situation.

The Bible tells us that “God created man in His image” (Gen 1:27), that “children are a gift from the Lord” (Psalm 127:3), and that God knows us and calls us to a special purpose while we are still in the womb (Galatians 1:15). It is clear that every human life is precious in God’s eyes, and I loved the way this argument is reflected within the film.

 

Hints of the Savior

The idea of a Savior-figure is woven throughout this film. Jonas himself makes a sacrifice in order to save his community from the dystopian world in which they live, and he risks it all in order to protect an infant who he believes will one day grow up to save his society yet again.

But the most powerful religious symbol of all is also the most subtle, and comes not in the form of an image, but a song. Twice in the film as Jonas receives a glimpse of a better and more hopeful future, children can be heard singing Silent Night softly in the background. How fitting that a carol which points to the Christ child’s identity as the Son of God and mission to redeem mankind would be playing as we watch a boy reach out of a dark society and grasp for hope and new life.

 

While the religious imagery here may be too subtle for some, The Giver still serves as a powerful picture of the darkness and spiritual blindness that can plague a society when its people fail to follow God’s guidelines for life and take matters into their own hands, just as Adam and Eve did in the very beginning. The film also paints a stunning portrait of the beauty and freedom that comes with redemption, and the powerful hope we find in Jesus Christ, the One True Savior of mankind who was born to us one Silent Night.

 

 

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