Set in the near-future, following a great war called "The Ruin", a community in North America has lived in tranquility without the existence of emotions or color, as these would produce conflicts. The citizens have also had their memories wiped. We follow young teenager Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) as he rides his bike with his two best friends Asher (Cameron Monaghan) and Fiona (Odeya Rush). It is the day before their Ceremony in which they will be assigned their positions in the community, something that makes Jonas rather nervous.
The three friends go to the Nurturing Center where the newborns are. Jonas's Father (Alexander Skarsgard) is working there. The kids find a crying baby, whom Father says is named Gabriel. They are not supposed to know the child's name but Father says he whispers the baby's name to him to soothe him. Fiona, having a natural talent with children, is able to calm the baby.
Jonas has dinner at home with his father, mother (Katie Holmes) and younger sister Lilly (Emma Tremblay). They discuss their recent feelings for the day, though Jonas has to be precise with his language, as certain feelings like fear or love are forbidden. He asks his parents if they were nervous before they were assigned to their current positions, for fear that there was nothing left for them. Father assures Jonas that the Elders have been watching him closely since he was a baby, so they know where to put him.
The next day is the Ceremony, started off with an introduction from the Chief Elder (Meryl Streep). She appears as a hologram since she cannot be there in person, though she is able to restate the events that led to the community, as well as assign the kids to their positions. During the Ceremony, Jonas notices an old man (Jeff Bridges) looking over at him. Asher is given the job of a drone pilot. Jonas is skipped over while the other kids are announced, and Fiona is assigned to be in the Nurturing Center. The Chief Elder then gets to Jonas, stating that he has all four attributes (intelligence, integrity, courage, and an ability to look beyond) that convinced the Elders to select Jonas as the new Receiver of Memories. Everybody starts chanting Jonas's name.
The next day, Jonas begins his private training with the old man, who is called The Giver, as he is the one who passes on memories to the Receiver. Jonas arrives at his house on the edge of the community overlooking a vast skyline. Jonas enters the house and down to a library area where the Giver introduces himself and tells Jonas about his training. The Giver holds all the memories that came before even the Elders can remember prior to The Ruin. He grabs both of Jonas's wrists, sending him into a memory of snowy woods, and of Jonas riding a sled down a hill. He can see himself looking and feeling excited, and then he comes to a cabin.
Gabe is brought to Jonas's home by a nurse from the Nurturing Center, still crying. They are assigned to watch over him at the moment until he "catches up". Lilly adores the baby and wants him to sleep in her room. Jonas looks at the baby and senses a connection where he believes that Gabe will one day be selected as he was.
During the next training session with The Giver, Jonas is given a memory of riding on a boat. The feeling to him is powerful enough for him to start to see colors around himself and The Giver. He explains to Jonas that the colors, along with the emotions, would allow everyone to feel conflicting emotions that would produce problems. He asks Jonas if he agrees that sameness is necessary, and while Jonas does agree, he believes what he's just seen is also very beautiful.
Jonas meets up with Fiona and Asher. Asher talks about how he's been able to fly the drones close to Elsewhere, which he describes as mostly farms and rocks, with two rocks touching at the top, forming a triangle. Jonas offers to show them what he's been learning by having them grab trays and slide down a slope. They have fun and laugh, and when Jonas goes over to help Fiona up, a voice tells them they cannot touch people outside their family unit.
Meanwhile, the Giver meets with the Chief Elder over his training with Jonas. She warns him to not repeat the mistake with the last Receiver, who is implied to have killed herself.
Jonas's next session with The Giver has them playing music on the piano and sharing a memory of a party with people dancing and having a great time. Jonas also sees himself and Fiona running to a tree and passionately kissing.
The Chief Elder contacts Jonas at home to ask him about the training he's received. Jonas has been told repeatedly that he is not to discuss his training, so he tells the Chief Elder that he just sits there and doesn't talk, and then comes home.
In the next session, Jonas sees horrific memories of an elephant being shot down, as well as himself in the position of a soldier whose partner is gunned down. The images overwhelm Jonas. He later learns that the previous Receiver, a teenage girl named Rosemary (Taylor Swift), was also distraught by the images she saw. Jonas sees a memory of The Giver playing the piano alongside Rosemary while she sings. Jonas also sees a projection of his father and a nurse in the nurturing center with two babies. The nurse takes one baby while Father is left with one baby that is deemed too weak. He injects something into the baby's head, killing it and then putting it in a box that is sent into a furnace. Jonas is horrified to come across this revelation of what they know as "releasing into Elsewhere."
When Jonas next sees Fiona, he suggests to her that she stop taking her morning injections, which is what numb the emotions in everyone. He later takes her to the Triangle, a spot where they and Asher enjoyed going to. There, Jonas kisses Fiona for the first time.
Jonas goes home and learns from Father that he is set to release Gabe the next day. At night, he sneaks out after curfew to find Gabe. Asher finds him and confronts him, only to get punched in the face by Jonas. Jonas makes it to the Nurturing Center, with Fiona there to help him get Gabe. They create a diversion that allows Jonas to get out with Gabe without getting caught. Jonas hops on a motorcycle to escape, but not before Fiona kisses him one last time. The Elders keep their watch on Jonas, but they lose him once he makes it outside the community.
The Chief Elder sends Asher out on a drone to locate Jonas and Gabe, and orders Asher to "lose" him. Asher finds Jonas running across the desert, flying the drone over his friend to pull him up with a beam. Jonas begs his friend to hear him out and recognize what the Elders are doing, and for Asher to trust Jonas. Asher complies and sets Jonas and Gabe free by dropping them in a river.
The Elders watch video footage of Fiona interacting with Jonas, helping him and Gabe escape, as well as them kissing. These images confuse the Elders. She is thus condemned for helping Jonas. Fiona is brought in to the chamber where Father is ready to release her into Elsewhere. The Giver, Chief Elder, and everyone else sit in attendance. The Giver brings up Rosemary, who happens to be his daughter. He says he loved her, and he doesn't care if the Elders don't want to hear that word. Mere moments before Father is ready to inject Fiona, Jonas rides a sled beyond the borders of Elsewhere with Gabe. This triggers a reaction in which all the memories (and the color) return to the community. Everybody begins to feel again, with Fiona and Mother both shedding tears.
In the final scene, Jonas, near-frozen and still carrying Gabe, walks through the bitterly cold, snowy woods to find a cabin.... the same one seen from the Giver's memories. He thinks he hears people inside singing, though it could merely be an echo. Whatever happens, Jonas acknowledges that The Giver brought him and Gabe there. Jonas and the infant Gabe enter the cabin.... leaving the outcome up in the air.