"It's just a bad adaptation. As a movie it's just boring." Lindsay Ellis (The Nostalgia Chick)
I feel compelled to put a quote like that for this movie as it appears a lot of people are saying this about it. And, speaking as someone who hasn't read the book, this does seem to be about right. I wouldn't be able to tell you how well it lives up to the book, but, seeing other people calling this a "bad adaptation," it's pretty clear that the book was doing something a lot more compelling than the movie was trying to do. Apparently, there are a lot of concepts and ideas that don't get explored in the movie as it makes room for a vague set of rules in this new world so we can have a vague sort of destiny that our protagonist goes through where he goes on a quest that has a vague goal on breaking the system somehow. Eventually, the movie ends.
The book might have had more detail on what the hell was going on and there might have been goals and motivations from characters that were probably clarified. If that's the case, then this movie fucked up hard. I already have a Ninja Turtles movie that's fresh in my memory in reminding me how badly things can go when you don't have clear characters and a lot of loose plot-threads, but The Giver takes everything to a whole new level in lazy story-telling.
The Giver is about a young, teenage boy, named Jonas, who lives in a future where everything is boring. However, this is a trade-off so people can live a perfect life as kids are born and start doing activities that will determine what their job is in their adult lives will be. People live happy, boring lives just as long as they take their daily medicine provided to them by the government. But the protagonist feels like there isn't going to be a job that fits him in the future because he feels like he's a special snow-flake who always saw things differently(making him instantly relate-able to every teenager ever). They reinforce this by having the entire world in black and white and there are scenes of Jonas where he catches glimpses of color. Anyways, it turns out he's right because, as they go through the job process, he turns out to be the chosen one and he must learn the ways of the not boring life for some reason.
To teach him the ways of the not boring life is Jeff Bridges, who plays a guy who carries memories of the life that was happening before this society was created. Jonas's new job is to be the next person to carry these memories so he knows what the world was like before it was boring. Through this process, he learns to see colors, to think for himself, and to feel emotions. And, it's at this point where the movie falls apart and doesn't even bother to make sense anymore.
The biggest problem is the lack of...establishing of whatever the hell is going on throughout this movie. Jonas gets appointed this job, but it's never really explained why this job is necessary for this society. Wouldn't it benefit the people in charge to not have anybody remember what the past life was like in case people start thinking the old way was better? What do these people get out of having somebody being the memory carrier when they can't share these memories?
The Giver gets killed by establishing a premise that somehow doesn't even make sense within its own context of the film. It's clear that they needed this whole memory plot to be there in order to have a story of some sort. Otherwise, the entire population would just go about their daily lives without a care in the world as it turns out the medication they are forced to take is what robs them of all emotions and free thinking. So, of course, the plan is to break the system and help everyone else free themselves from being controlled. In order to do this, the protagonist must...ummm...cross the barrier that's shielding this society so it will break and cause everybody to not be boring anymore. Forget that it was the medication that everyone was forced to take, breaking this barrier is what causes everybody to see clearly.
The worst part about The Giver is that it's a lot more boring than I'm probably making it out to be. From describing it, it sounds like one of those cases where they got things so wrong that it's laughable. If you read the book, this might be the case. Otherwise, the movie just gets by on being vague on its own plot details so it'll have the illusion of any sort of conflict or drama or story-telling and it's also what causes this 90 minute movie to feel like it's 10 god damn hours long. If The Giver is any hint on what's coming out in our future of boring, soulless adaptions of young adult novels, then we're in for a pretty painful ride.