Love will lead us home
The Giver is one of my favorite novels. Critics are mixed on the recent film adaptation, but I find it a good companion piece. I like how its visual nature heightens aspects like the impact of memory and the role of color. But most of all, I appreciate how it honors and develops the story’s focus on the transforming power of love.
The film matures Jonas and his friends from 12 to 16, adding a layer of depth to their relationships and the narrative, which stays pretty close to the novel. They live in a seemingly utopian community that aspires to “Sameness.” Everyone lives amicably, content in their assigned roles in a peaceable community governed by seemingly benevolent Elders.
That changes for Jonas when he is chosen as the Receiver. He starts to experience the world’s collective memories — from the beauty of snow to the horror of war and death — stored in the memory of the Giver, who serves as an adviser of sorts to the Elders.
Jonas also discovers that everyone in the community is medicated to control emotions in order to maintain an ordered society. But the injections don’t just eliminate hate, anger and fear. They also deaden love and joy.
The more memories Jonas receives and the more he learns about his community, the more he struggles to find a way to restore what they’ve lost. And love is central to that journey.
The Giver echoes a profound truth of our own journey: Love has the power to wake us to and transform us toward the kind of life we were meant to live.
God built into us the capacity and ability to love, says C.S. Lewis in The Four Loves. The love we feel for friends, family and beloveds are “natural images” or “foretastes” of God — who is Love Himself. As such, they provide “proximities of approach” or on-ramps that have the potential to become profound modes of transformation, moving us toward the love of Love Himself: as Lewis says, “love that seeks the good of the loved object for the object’s own sake.”
This is how we were created to love. This is the kind of love that overcomes and transforms hate, anger and fear in ourselves and others.
When we forget who we are, love wakes us up. Experiencing it transforms us and opens our eyes to, as the Giver puts it, “a life of shadows, of echoes of what once made us real.” We may not see perfectly, says Lewis, but “to know that one is dreaming is to be no longer perfectly asleep.”
The Giver explores this kind of awakening. Jonas receives his first experience of love in a memory of a family at Christmas (a packed symbol of love in itself). That starts to change him: “Something within him . . . had grown,” as the novel puts it.
Then Jonas starts to experience love for those around him. As his experience of and capacity for love grows, Jonas and the way he sees the world transform (quite literally, in the latter case). By the end of his journey, Jonas has the capacity for the best love of all: laying down his life for others.
And Jonas’ capacity to love opens him to other things. “With love,” the Giver says in the film, “comes faith, comes hope.”
And it is these three things — love above all — that will lead us toward that day when “we’ll see it all . . . as clearly as God sees us” (1 Cor. 13:12-13).
Love wakes us to our “life of shadows” and reminds us of who we were created to be and the God who created us. In this world, we may not love perfectly. It may be “only an echo,” to play on Jonas’ final words in the film, “but it will lead us all home.”
Carmen Andres lives in Alexandria, Va.
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