How “The Giver” Became a Christmas Story

I’d read the book, “The Giver” several years ago. It was poignant, and a good book that I required my eighth grader to read. The movie, with its rather unexpected Christian symbolism, brought the book home in a whole new way.

In case you missed it, the book goes something like this. Jonas grows up in a seemingly perfect society. Jonas becomes the Receiver of Memory for his society, the only person who can remember how things were before.  Jonas realizes that the people of his society have sacrificed their humanity for “Sameness”.  The book calls what the people lost “memory”, but it includes emotion rather than just fleeting feeling, conscience, colors, music, and pretty much everything that separates a human from a very intelligent dog. I would call that a soul. Jonas flees society in an attempt to save a baby about to be euthanized and return to what is real, hoping that his leaving will make the people get back their memories or “souls”. Boy and baby may or may not have died at the end, which was pretty sad. As a Christian, I can nod along and fleetingly think about the human inclination to recreate Eden, and how it always falls short. The error in Utopia, if you will.

The movie? Wow. The entire time the boy is discovering the evil in his society, he is carrying an apple. Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is a theme that is in the constant background. The references to Eden are overt. The thing that undid me though, were the references to the second Adam.

In the book, the first memory that Jonas is given  is of snow, and sledding, and a cottage with a fire with a family. At the end of the book, when his strength is spent, and he can do nothing else to save himself and the baby he is rescuing, he stumbles upon the sled and finds the cottage. You are left not sure if this is his last thought before death or he actually made it home.

The movie is much the same (with some added drama in other areas of the story), but with a few touches, maybe not even intentional, that add another layer of meaning. You see, in the movie, the home Jonas returns to is celebrating Christmas. The house is decorated with lights and the faintest strains of Silent Night can be heard.

And  that little bit of cinematography changes everything. The One that those Christmas lights and familiar carols represents  is a real and present answer to all of our false Edens. Even if Jonas meets him in death, there is triumph.

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