‘The Giver’ Is A Glimpse At Progressivism Gone Wrong

Erik Telford President, Franklin Center
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The American left is a lot of things, but it isn’t liberal. Liberalism, the belief in the equality of mankind and in personal freedoms, has faded away in favor of progressivism, the belief that the state can and must advance utopian ideals that will improve the human condition. A fervent belief in the former inspired the American revolution and pervades our founding documents. An extreme strain of the latter can be seen in the new film “The Giver,” which should haunt the dreams of every American disturbed by their government’s present path.

“The Giver” is based on Lois Lowry’s best-selling 1994 young adult novel, and is set in a dystopian, futuristic society where a totalitarian state has attempted to “protect” its people from fear by bleaching the world of emotions, good and bad. Hate, war, prejudice, and evil have been eradicated, but so have hope and love. In an attempt to perfect the human condition, the society took away what made us human — our flaws and feelings and memories. The film’s subject matter alone makes it an uncharacteristically serious family movie, but the parallels between the futuristic society’s philosophy of sameness and the present administration’s motivations should leave audiences thinking about government in a new light.

The dystopian, totalitarian state of the future is a recurring theme in literature in film, but in most of these works — from 1984 to The Hunger Games — the authority figures are propelled by relatively simple and sinister motivations, generally an insatiable lust for power or a need to control a rebellious population through force. Not so in “The Giver,” where the society undertakes its extreme measures in an attempt to better itself. For example, the community decided that prejudice needed to be eliminated, and thus made everyone look and act the same. Likewise, failure was eradicated by forbidding competition and — by extension — choice, with each child assigned a job at the age of 16. Even the society’s most obviously evil acts — mass infanticide and euthanasia — are euphemized as the “release” of suffering or otherwise imperfect individuals, done for the betterment of the community.

No one is comparing the Obama administration to the world of “The Giver,” but it’s not hard to draw a line from today’s progressivism to the dystopian future the film presents. At one point, the protagonist says, “when people have the freedom to choose, they choose wrong,” which sounds like it could have come straight from the mouths of any of a number of Cabinet secretaries, regulatory agency heads, or even Michael Bloomberg.

The application of this belief is taken to the extreme in the film, but the society we see in “The Giver” is an endpoint, the product of centuries — if not millennia — of progressive thought. The government’s attempts to save us from our own choices — be they to own a gun, heat our homes with coal, use incandescent light bulbs, drink a soda, or any other activity the state has deemed “unsafe” or “counterproductive” — are products of the exact same mentality that drives the film’s horrific community.

The society’s attempts to eliminate feelings of loss, rejection, and failure through the eradication of competition can also broadly be seen in the progressive left’s preference for forced equality over liberty. Whether through outright wealth redistribution or indirect trickle-up misery programs (like “free” healthcare that bankrupts a thriving system, or rigid public schooling that eliminates parents’ power to choose the path of their children’s education), government’s attempts to “level the playing field” only tend to push that playing field down to a lower level.

In “The Giver,” society prevents the individual from failing by setting him on a predestined course. Progressives aren’t quite at that point, but they’re happy to set the safety net and the economic ceiling about six inches apart. The film weighs whether the possibility of passion, free will, and happiness are worth the potential for danger and loss that naturally accompany them — and not to spoil the ending, but it should be clear which way the scales eventually tip.

Moreover, the society’s elimination of pain comes at the price of love, and with it, the family. Conservatives who view the film will naturally draw parallels between its dissolution of the family unit — infants stripped from their mothers and killed, adults living apart from their children in group homes — and the reduced importance of the family as a societal building block in our country.

In a day and age when Hollywood blockbusters can range from thinly veiled fringe environmental propaganda (“The Day After Tomorrow,” “Avatar”) to outright moonbattery (anything Michael Moore has touched), “The Giver” is the rare film that advances the conservative cause. The movie is so well done that audiences won’t be able to help but ponder its themes and rethink the America that progressive politicians are promising them. We live in a world with right and wrong and the power to choose between the two, and after 90 minutes experiencing a place devoid of those choices, many people may be choosing against the side that promises a progressive utopia.