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Learning Liftoff Movie Review: Is The Giver OK For the Kids?

The Giver by Lois Lowry, published in 1993, is one of the most popular young adult books of all time, with 10 million copies sold.  After a 20-year struggle by its co-star, Jeff Bridges, to bring it to the big screen the question is: was the trip worth it?  And, should you take your child to see it?

The short answer: this is a well-crafted rendition of the controversial book that raises provocative questions for older kids.  But some may find its pace to be overly quick and lacking in terms of the main character’s development.

Basic Info

Director: Philip Noyce

Stars:  Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Brenton Thwaites, Odeya Rush

Rating: PG-13 for a mature theme and some sci-fi action/adventure

Time: 94 minutes

How Challenging is the Movie?

The Giver’s rating is appropriate, as it’s best for middle school kids and up who are better equipped to handle the social and moral issues presented by the film.

It tells the story of a post-apocalyptic society engineered to be “perfect.” Everyone here is apparently happy. There’s no war, no conflict, and even no bad weather.  People are raised to have no memories of the past, and receive a daily drug to keep them from having real emotions.

However, one person has memories and keeps books and records of the past: the Giver.  His role is to advise the community’s leaders when they face problems that require the wisdom of knowledge and experience.  But he’s growing old and needs to pass his memories along.

Enter Jonas, our young hero, who is chosen to be the community’s Receiver of Memories.  From the Giver, Jonas learns about pain, sadness, war, and all the suffering of the old world. He also learns about joy and music and love, which have also been banished.

Not content to keep this knowledge to himself, and with the dawning realization that the world he lives in is overly controlled and secretly corrupt, he faces a moral choice at the heart of the story. Does he go on a treacherous journey to release his community from its bonds, knowing that it will bring both joy and suffering?

Unlike somewhat similar “dystopian” films like The Hunger Games, there is far less action and violence in The Giver.  It is tightly told and never dull, but more cerebral than other movies in this genre.

Is there profanity, violence, or explicit content?

I can’t recall a single curse word in the film, nor is there any nudity.  However, as the Giver conveys memories to Jonas, there are scenes of war, death, and suffering, depicted in quick cuts.  In addition, there is a disturbing scene in which Jonas’ father euthanizes a baby who is deemed not acceptable to the community.  While handled tastefully, it is powerful and sad (and, it should be stated, a key turning point for Jonas in the film).

Is The Giver educational?

3/5

0- Purely entertainment

1- Good morals could be taught

2- Based on a book, strong morals and life lessons throughout the film

3- Several discussions could be had around the film and its themes

4- The film has historical or educational significance

5- Education is a theme in the film

Yes.  The film, like the book, raises a number of provocative questions worth discussing, such as: if you were Jonas, what would you do? Are there any parallels between the world of The Giver and our own world?  What are the trade-offs between a world free of pain but also devoid of joy? Could we as a society solve any of our problems with elements of the social or technological engineering shown in the film?

The Bottom Line

Mature kids starting at about 12 years old should be able to handle the themes, ideas, and imagery of this movie. It is certainly recommended for any student who has read the book, to compare the way plot and characters are handled. For children easily upset by what’s been mentioned above, use caution.

Please feel free to leave feedback in the comments section below!

Read more of our recent movie reviews here.


Image © Walden Media

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Michael Solow

Michael Solow

Michael Solow has worked as a teacher, journalist, and commercial writer/creative director. Michael has also taught high school English and junior high math, gaining his teaching certification from Vassar College and a master's degree in the teaching of writing and literature from George Mason University. His writing has been published in the New York Times, the San Francisco Review of Books, TheMorningNews.org, and the Hemingway Review. He is the proud dad of two grown daughters and the happy husband of an elementary school librarian.

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