In some distant future, people live in an isolated community where sameness and uniformity are the norm. They live apparently happy lives, but their emotions are kept in check by drugs that they are forced to take. They do not know love or other strong emotions, nor do they see color. The leaders deny them knowledge so that they cannot know that there is an alternative to their restricted existence.
This story made me think of North Korea, but the analogy does not have to be limited to totalitarian societies. The movie could be metaphor for any type of society that expects conformity and suppresses human potential. To one degree or another, all human societies are guilty of this.
In this community there is always one person who is implanted with the memories of the past, so that he can advise the leaders about things that even they are unaware of. That person is called The Giver, played with subdued passion by Jeff Bridges. He must pass his knowledge to an apprentice, Jonah, played by Brenton Thwaites. However, when Jonah learns how much more there is to human existence, he tries to start a rebellion. That would seem like an inherent flaw in this future community; there is always going to be one or two people who know that there is a better way. Just being human means that they would want to change things.
Meryl Streep gives an interesting performance as the supreme leader. She is a tyrant, but one with benevolent intentions. She thinks that she is doing the right thing, but like her subjects, she doesn't know an alternative. There seems to me to be something very special about the performances by Streep and Bridges, both of which are highly skilled actors. Both their characters seem to be suffering in silence, but for different reasons. They are both prisoners of a system much bigger than themselves.
There is a plot element toward the end about "the border of elsewhere" that is never fully explained, nor does it fully make sense. But in a science fiction movie things can happen that don't fully make sense, nor do they have to be fully explained. I am hoping for a sequel that gives more exposition, or maybe I just have to read the book that the movie is based on.
The Giver only has a 35% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but I do not understand why it was not more well received. I think that the movie is good, emotionally moving, and I see nothing major wrong with it. The futuristic Utopian theme reminds me of Logan's Run or Divergent, but most of it feels different from than anything I have seen before. The most common criticism I have read is that the movie doesn't capture fully the magic of the book, but I haven't read the book, so I think that the movie is magical too. The story elements are slightly better than the execution, like maybe the movie could have been just a little bit better, but the story still feels very compelling to me.
Parts of the film were shot in Utah, and having lived there, the scenery seemed familiar.