So, let’s talk about that scene in “The Giver.” The one with the baby.
The movie, which had a soft $12 million opening this weekend (from a $25 million budget), is based on Lois Lowry’s controversial young adult dystopian novel that’s been taught in schools for years. Part of the reason why the film took nearly two decades to bring to life is because many studios were wary of the very dark content within the book, where the characters live without choices or freedom.
This resulted in a lot of very careful discussions about what to portray within the film, producers said. Ideally, the movie would be suitable for a young audience. But there’s no escaping the most chilling aspect of “The Giver’s” utopian society, and one that had to be in the movie: That babies — if they aren’t developing fast enough — are euthanized.
Of course, the people in the society (who call the act a “release”) have no clue that they’re killing the babies, since they’re living in a universe where there’s no such thing as death or pain or sadness. Only a couple people know what “releasing” someone truly means. Still, that doesn’t make it any less disturbing when the main character’s father is in charge of releasing a newborn, who was born as a twin; in “Giver” world, for inexplicable reasons, only one twin is allowed to survive.
Producer Nikki Silver, who partnered with Jeff Bridges nearly 20 years ago to try and make the film, said that scene led to lots of debate between the film executives. There’s no way they couldn’t include it — the moment is a pivotal scene in the novel, because that’s when the main character, Jonas, realizes that he can’t live in a society that has such a ritual. It’s the turning point for the whole story.
Silver credits the movie’s director, Phillip Noyce, for carefully handling the sensitive material.
“My hat’s off to Phillip Noyce for finding the right balance between sharing the horror of the scene but not making you watch every minute of it — but you know exactly what’s happening,” Silver said. In the film, the audience sees Jonas’s father inject the baby and put it in a box, which is horrifying enough, but you don’t see the act up close.
Silver said it was crucial to leave the scene in. “To really make the movie work, you have to be willing to show what’s behind the curtain,” she said. “I believe we have done it to a point where we can have younger kids see this film, and yet really show the horror of where society without choice and freedom could go.”
Even though it was an incredibly disturbing few minutes, producers actually made a choice to cut one of the most famous lines from the book — because, despite everything, it was just too dark. In the book, Jonas’s father (who, again, is just a pawn in the dystopian world and doesn’t realize exactly what he’s doing) puts the dead baby in a box and says cheerfully, “Bye-bye little guy.”
Although Silver said they did film a version where the father (played by Alexander Skarsgard) said the line, everyone made the decision to leave it on the cutting room floor.
“On screen, it was just too chilling,” Silver explained. “And it felt like we never wanted that scene to be interpreted any other way than what it is.”