‘The Giver’: An Allegory of Obama’s America

Jonas has questions. He wants some answers (usmagazine.com).

Jonas has questions. He wants some answers (usmagazine.com).

Incredibly, the most persuasive campaign commercial Republicans have this fall is a full-length Hollywood movie. The Giver, a film adaptation of Lois Lowry’s 1993 dystopian children’s novel, plays as a devastating critique of the Obama Era. IMDb describes this as a sci-fi movie, but it’s rather eerily real and immediate.

As the credits rolled, I couldn’t help but wonder whether Lowry is conservative. According to her interview with the Wall Street Journal, she’s a dedicated Democrat. Of course, the world also looked noticeably different when she penned this story in the early ‘90s. Few people—if anyone—would have predicted an American president successfully replicating a sizable portion of Europeans’ social safety net, or feeling so ambivalent about American exceptionalism.

The movie is set in The Community, a perfectly manicured locale, at some unspecified future date. The weather is always glorious, because The Elders, in their wisdom, eliminated cold and snow. They also eradicated religion, pain, lying, love, and war.

Nobody is supposed to question The Elders, who are presumed to know best. As the Chief Elder (Meryl Streep) ominously intones at one point, “When people have the freedom to choose, they choose wrong every single time.”

For that reason, The Elders assign careers to everyone, including 16-year-old protagonist Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), who is designated The Community’s next keeper of memories. It seems that each generation tasks only one person with learning unpleasant (and joyful) memories and sensations, lest everyone else become too troubled (and troublesome). Of course, the more Jonas learns while apprenticed to The Giver (Jeff Bridges), the more danger he spots in his own supposedly safe, highly homogenized world.

As Jonas begins questioning widely accepted truths, the Chief Elder watches him ever more closely. She’s so concerned by his rebellious behavior that the Chief Elder even pays an unscheduled visit to Jonas’ home and expresses concern about his parenting.

In The Community, job assignments include birth mother and nurturer. Family life is anything but traditional. Children are assigned to live with biologically unrelated parents, and child-rearing is about indoctrination. So, when Jonas asks his parents if they love him, he’s chided for using “imprecise language.” And when people are inconvenient, they are “released” from life by The Community; that includes both the elderly and the very young.

Many of these details might have seemed fantastic 20 years ago, but that’s no longer true. Like The Elders, the NSA has significant access to private, personal information. The IRS attempted to enforce ideological conformity, auditing and otherwise harassing conservative donors and organizations.

Increasingly, there is a divide between the adults who contribute genetic material to children and those who raise them. If MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry had her way, parenting would undoubtedly be more collectivist. Abortion supporters are shifting away from “safe, legal, and rare”. And Obamacare, the president’s major legislative accomplishment, has raised concerns about health care rationing, particularly among the elderly.

As for numbing the public, we have a widespread movement to legalize marijuana. We also have direct pay-offs to many Americans, in the form of endlessly extended unemployment benefits, rather than expanded employment opportunities.

Deemed controversial, this movie was nearly two decades in the making. If Jeff Bridges had produced this movie during the Clinton or Bush years, it would likely feel radically different.

However, as things stand, one can’t be politically aware and not see the movie’s strong contemporary political overtones. The fictional community is a plausible—albeit extreme—manifestation of the centralized control and expert-led government that liberals favor. The resulting Big Brother-like society is both creepy and claustrophobic.

Ordinarily, I’m relieved when the lights come up and I’m reminded that it’s only a movie. In this case though, the world presented felt too close for comfort, an extension of a road our nation has begun treading. For those of us who would prefer to reverse course, we can only hope that swing voters see this film and have a similar reaction.

The Giver opens in theaters on August 15th.

This article appeared in Acculturated.


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