The YA dystopian genre isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, but it’s going to become more and more difficult to be heard in the noise. With The Hunger Games topping box office charts and Divergent producing more than its fair share of fans (this writer included), moviegoers will eventually demand more than the generic teenagers rebelling against an overly structured society. The Maze Runner attempts to meet that challenge before it starts, mostly by “Bournifying” its property with memory loss.
In the mysterious place that the boys call “The Glade,” a month’s worth of supplies are brought up in a cage every month, and along with it, a new teenage boy. The boys never remember who they were before, who their parents were, were they were from, anything, save for their name. Thomas, like all the others, wakes up unable to remember anything about his previous life. But that’s not the most interesting thing about the film. It soars past most of the inherent memory loss issues to get right down to the real business: the maze.
The Glade is in the middle of a labyrinth they simply call “The Maze.” It’s separated from it by walls, and they only have access to it during the day. At night, the gate is closed off, and the reavers, spider-scorpion things made of metal and flesh, prey on whoever is still out there. Most of the boys in the glade are fine with just living their lives safely within those walls. Thomas, however, isn’t content with that. He wants to know why.
The Maze Runner employs many of the same themes as the YA dystopian stories before it, but in a different way. The object of the rebellion is no longer a government figure, or even humans, to a certain extent. They don’t know who they’re fighting, which makes the journey in and of itself more exciting. It’s not just about the battle, but it’s about the discovery, too. That’s also good news for Christians who may have been uncomfortable with the rebellious nature of stories such as The Hunger Games in light of passages such as Romans 13 that tell us to be in subjection to the governing authorities. Here the story shares with us the same virtues of courage, bravery, and standing up in the middle of a society that would rather stay put, but does so without the possible conflict with scriptural values.
With that said, it also contains a more dark and pessimistic view of humanity and the future. The reveal of the actual villains leaves the audience seriously doubting whether things can really end well. Part of the reason for that is propagating the series, since this film is the first of a trilogy. A pessimistic view of human nature isn’t necessarily a bad thing for Christians to think about, either. Scripture often emphasizes the sinful and depraved behavior of mankind, so the idea that people could live in a perfect utopian society, especially with no place for God in the society, cannot be a Christian ideal. Stories like this give us the opportunity to discuss that with each other, and show what the alternative is to sinful men doing horrible things to each other because of their lack of a moral compass.
The darkness of the film is its strength. But at the same time, the thing that is most fascinating and offers the most depth in dark films, that is how people respond and cope with the darkness, is all but overlooked in favor of moving the story forward with another action sequence. Aside from one particularly emotional scene at the end of the film, most events take place in a touch-and-go fashion, not leaving us much time to see how it’s effecting and changing each of the characters. I’m hopeful that we’ll get to see more of that in the next film, but that aspect stands lacking in this first installment.
The Maze Runner isn’t going to offer serious competition with The Hunger Games, but it’s not going to go on a list of worst films, either. It’s at the very least worth seeing once, and may offer an opportunity of introspection, for us to ask whether we identify the most with Gally, who wants to keep things the way they’ve always been, or Thomas, who’s willing to take action among those who are passive.