The plot is about a community that is controlled by “the elders” who seek a utopian society by eliminating all pain and strife through making everyone live and function the same. The movie is in black and white. The elders select an eleven-year-old Jonas, the main character, to be the one “receiver of memory.” His role is to receive vicariously recollections of the pre-utopian experiences as passed down from the character of “the giver.” The elders perpetuated the role so they have the benefit of this wisdom to make their collective decisions. When Jonas is vicariously allowed to experience true happiness and love, the movie screen explodes into color, kind of like what Dorothy’s experience in The Wizard of Oz. Jonas then yearns that he and his family and friends escape the controlled “utopian” environment so they can experience this higher level of living—even if it means occasionally feeling pain, too.
The movie was extremely moving to me. It portrayed something similar to my before-and-after of being treated for chronic depression, generalized anxiety, and low self-esteem. My life before was like being on a constant treadmill—just trying to keep up with everyone’s expectations and completing all of life’s many tasks. There was little joy in it all. In my early years, I was taught to suppress my feelings. This along with a series of painful experiences led me to bury deep inside most of what I felt. It was “emotional constipation” as one of my cousins describes it. Further, I was always trying to prove to everyone—and myself—that I was worthwhile through trying to be constantly productive. But through psychotherapy, I learned to get in touch with myself, to feel, and to enjoy life.
In my book, Rising Above Fog, I liken this before-and-after experience to hiking up a mountain out of the fog of a winter temperature inversion in the Salt Lake Valley. The Giver movie portrayal may be even better.
Last week I was speaking with a friend about what each of us would consider the best times of his life. He had just taken his son to college in another state and he reminisced about how great his own college years were. I told him that my life has become so much richer and more fulfilling since I got help that I’d probably never consider times before as highlights.
A few months ago, one of my sisters shared with me a newspaper article reporting on a speech on mental health at Brigham Young University[i]. Rebecca H. Jackson stated that those suffering from depression and other forms of mental illness often feel disconnect from God and His love. While I’ve always had the practice of praying and have felt connected to God, I struggled to feel His love until after getting help. Now I often “feast upon his love[ii],” as one of my favorite scriptures suggests.
This higher way of living and feeling is very delicious to me. Having lived a large part of my life without it, I often ponder on the contrast the two. And like Jonas, I seek to help others who are stuck in a less attractive place because of mental illness. As I was for years, they may be unaware of their situation. My mantra is to help others live more satisfying and fruitful lives by getting help for mental health challenges.
I join Jonas, the fictional character in the movie The Giver, in exclaiming that moving beyond a world without emotion and color is truly exhilarating!
[i] Deseret News, May 3, 2014, B1
[ii] Jacob 3:2