Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Giver Adoption Movie Review

After a great war, society has rebuilt itself with the aim of avoiding pain – and avoiding another catastrophe. Society has identified choice and differences as the source of conflict, and has created a new order, without choices, without differences, and without pain. Only one member of the community – The Receiver of Memory - is entrusted with the memories of years past. The current receiver is very old, and has been assigned an apprentice, a teenager named Jonas, who is expected to become the new Receiver of Memory. If Jonas fails, the community will be forced to face generations of suppressed memories.

How Does This Connect to Adoption?
In a way, all of the families in the film are adoptive families; it’s not positive.

In Jonas’ community, there are no choices. Citizens are assigned jobs when they come of age. They can apply for inclusion in a family unit. Family units are assigned children. One of the jobs to which community members can be assigned is “birth mother.” The position is introduced in the film, but is not expounded upon. 

In the book, birth mothers are described as a position of low honor; they give birth three times, and then are assigned to manual labor. Jonas’ sister is chastised by his mother for saying she hoped to be assigned to the position of birth mother.

The Community boasts that its children are “engineered by geneticists, produced by birth mothers, and assigned to family units.”

Jonas wishes for a world where people know who their parents actually are.

Jonas is the second apprentice assigned to the Receiver. The first apprentice committed suicide after being exposed to the pain of a child taken from her mother.

Positive Aspects

The film does pay tribute to the value of history, memory, and family. The film also relates that secrecy involves losses and doesn’t eliminate pain.


Jonas’ apprenticeship largely consists of receiving memories from the previous receiver. They are transmitted by the older man placing his hands on Jonas. In an early lesson, the old man keeps telling Jonas to sit closer and closer. Before he touches Jonas, the man says, “There is no way to prepare you for what I am going to do.” The scene is not sexualized, but it could be a trigger for kids in foster care who have previously been molested.

Negative Aspects

In the Community, there can be no twins. Jonas’ father, a nurturer in the neonatal unit, is assigned the task of determining which twin is healthiest. The healthiest baby is assigned to a family, while the less healthy baby is killed by means of a lethal injection into the scalp. We see one baby killed in this way, packaged into a cardboard box, and disposed of down a trash chute. This could be quite confusing or traumatic for some kids, especially given the nonchalant way the killings are carried out.

One of Jonas’ friends has gotten in trouble, and is in danger of being killed by lethal injection.
Jonas and his parents lie to each other.

An elephant is shot on screen. Later, a human dies on screen.

A governmental leader orders the execution of a protagonist.

Also, see the next section.

The Giver makes the short list of books that I remember fondly from my pre-teen years. Even now, I revisit it every couple of years. It was interesting – and pleasant – to see some familiar places and people brought to life in film.

Some of the book was translated pretty directly, though. Birth mothers are held in low esteem, family units are formed through governmental assignments, and underweight babies that might be described in the United States as “failure to thrive,” are killed. There are several aspects of this film that could be challenging for children who have been abused, and some elements of the film could be confusing and negatively impactful for children who are still developing their understanding of their own adoption. It could be possible for children to walk away from the film thinking that all adoptions are wrong, or that birthmothers are not very valuable. Either impression could be harmful.
The Giver earned an MPAA rating of PG-13, and I’d recommend parents abiding by that rating. The film might unintentionally overwhelm kids under 13. Kids over 13 who have developed insight into their own adoption story might be able to use the film as a springboard for discussion. If you will have your teen watch this film, I’d recommend watching it with them and talking it over with them right after the film.

Questions for Discussion

The Chief Elder believes that people, when given choices, will always choose wrong. What do you think?

How does the depiction of “birth mothers” in this film relate to the way people in different aspects of the adoption community think of birth mothers?

What’s the difference between knowing something and knowing how it feels?

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