I appreciate what the new movie (and 20-year-old book upon which it is based) “The Giver” was trying to say enough to feel bad about giving the film a tepid review, but I’ve got to call ’em like I see ’em. For counterpoints, John Nolte here at Breitbart loved the movie, as did my old friend Ed Morrissey at Hot Air (who had almost exactly the opposite take as mine, comparing “The Giver” to other young-adult movies created after the book was published) and Emily Schultheis at The Federalist. I like to read varying takes on movies and books, so perhaps the connoisseur of criticism will find some value in comparing what each of us had to say, pro and con.
I would like to highlight and praise a couple of things about the setting of “The Giver” that I found particularly clever: the constant “apology” rituals, and the admonition to use “precise language.” In the dystopian future society of the film, it is common for people – including the Elders who control everything – to formally declare “I apologize” after even the slightest error, and for the listener to reply “I accept your apology” in the same manner that a church congregation might say “Amen” during a service. In an early scene, when Meryl Streep’s chief Elder breezily apologizes for being unable to attend a ceremony in person, the entire audience chants “I accept your apology” in unison.
It’s creepy, and it’s worth thinking about why. There’s something about the way this ritual dissolves responsibility and individuality, both from the people who apologize and those who formally accept it. When you say “I apologize” all the time, as part of a social ritual, apology loses its meaning, along with individual accountability. The hive mind is constantly performing little self-diagnostic routines and assuring itself all is well. In the doctrine of Sameness that defines the world of “The Giver,” nobody is a failure… and nobody is a success. There is only mediocrity.
The bit about snapping at people to “use precise language” is a clever Orwellian mechanism for using the form of language to destroy coherent thought, rather than clarifying it. In the world of “The Giver,” you’re not allowed to ramble, think out loud, construct an argument as you go along, or say anything provocative. You’re constantly being told to “use precise language” when you start thinking outside the box, express emotions through speech, or even offer intuitive judgment. It’s as though every citizen is a computer whose reset button gets hammered when they show dangerous signs of deviating from groupthink. They enforce conformity by slapping down creativity with demands for “precise language” that really mean “roll your train of thought back into the station pronto.”
If you go to see the movie, a fun mental exercise would be to replace every instance of a character saying “use precise language” with “check your privilege” or some other contemporary example of anti-thought: language used as a cudgel to repress thought rather than expressing it.