"The Giver" Movie Review
I’m going to talk about something in this movie so small, that if you’re not a hopeless romantic like me, you might just miss it:
It’s the meaning and beauty of a simple kiss.
Now don’t get me wrong; The Giver is not a romance. What I’m describing is a more subtle aspect of the movie. Government control, language manipulation, the dignity of human life, no free will, no love, no suffering, no emotion….These are all themes of The Giver, both in the book and the movie that should be seen and discussed. There’s a lot to think about from reading Lois Lowry’s young adult novel, which is why many of us had it as required reading in middle school.
No, what I’m discussing is something you won’t find in the book, but was my favourite liberty taken in the movie: the blossoming romance of Jonas and Fiona. They are two childhood friends that are now beginning their training in the careers chosen for them by the elders of their “perfect” community. Fiona is, not surprisingly, chosen to be a nurturer for newborn infants. She had done most of her required volunteer hours at the nurturing centre over the past few years and is a natural with the newborns. Jonas is selected to be the next Receiver of Memory. This is a rare honour, higher than any other in the community.
As Receiver of Memory, Jonas is given all the memories of the world’s past: its joys and sorrows, something of which Jonas’ community knows nothing about. Emotions, among others things, are controlled in Jonas’ community, and so the experience of life in the community means that no one suffers, but it also means that no one loves. The Giver transfers these memories to Jonas, and Jonas knows that one day when he’s old, he will transfer the memories to the next Receiver of Memory. The elders decided long ago that the community shouldn’t have the memories to protect them from pain, and so the purpose of the Receiver is to on occasion give wisdom when they seek his advice on an important decision they are making for the community.
Jonas has learned what love is through his new relationship with the Giver. He recognizes over time and through the memories he has now been given that the affection he has always had for Fiona, and the attraction he began to have for her as he grew up, was normal. He learns that his society was wrong in trying to control his and all sexual attraction through daily injections that the rest of his community thinks is normal. Jonas secretly stops taking his daily injection, and as months go by, he falls more and more in love with Fiona. He convinces her to stop taking her daily injections too.
After a couple of days of not taking her daily injections, Fiona begins to feel an attraction to Jonas though she doesn’t understand it, and when he kisses her for the first time, she doesn’t know how to interpret it. But the gentleness of that kiss, the purity of Jonas’ heart from where it was given, prompts her to trust him when he tells her that there is something more to life than what their community has always told them.
Why do we often remember with fondness our first kiss, either ever or with the love we are currently with? It was probably a little bit awkward, we were probably a little nervous, and it was probably nowhere as romantic as it always is in movies. I think it’s because first kisses often have an innocence that can be lost as a relationship progresses.
Kisses are often given too liberally in our contemporary culture, and not seen as that big of a deal. For one thing, greater physical intimacy is expected as a relationship progresses. Also, going on dates is no longer a requirement of going in for that first kiss. Guy and girl meet, he buys her a drink, they make out. There. And then the next day, does she remember that kiss with a childlike thrill, or is it more of a confused and regretful, “I wonder if he’s interested?”
As Catholics, we do not need to fear sexual attraction. God made us that way, and His creation of humanity is “very good” (Genesis 1:31). The virtue of chastity is just that: a virtue. Through it, we grow in freedom to love more deeply and more intimately. Without chastity, we aren’t free to love.
Jonas learns that his “perfect” community is going to silently murder an “imperfect” infant whom he has come to know and love, the next day. He decides to escape that night and he goes to Fiona who is working in the nurturing centre to help him take the baby. Jonas asks Fiona to go with him and the baby, but she refuses. He insists, but she can’t leave the only community she knows. She feels an obligation to it. Before he leaves, though, she reaches up and boldly kisses Jonas’ lips. It is their second kiss, and the last time we see them together in the movie. Their physical affection doesn’t go any further than those two kisses. And yet, through them we see such a powerful and genuine love for each other.
The beauty of a simple kiss is that it is a sign of a beautiful attraction, a growing in affection for the other, and a sign of commitment to grow in love. Our culture has lost the meaning and beauty of a simple kiss. The Giver offers a refreshing alternative to the romances we so often see in the movies.