A bunch of teenagers find themselves in a clearing surrounded by a mysterious, dangerous maze. Their little society follows strict rules to protect itself – but the arrival of a boy turns their world upside down…
Based on James Dashner’s book The Maze Runner, the first of a trilogy, this young adult post-apocalyptic dystopia is a tremendous success and fits in nicely with the current trend. When Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) arrives at The Glade, he is traumatised due to his tremendous memory loss. ‘Don’t worry, it happens to everyone,’ he is told – for years, one new arrival per month is sent up to the Glade in a mysterious box, alongside some supplies that the Gladers cannot provide for themselves. Except for their names, they won’t be able to recall the circumstances that sent them there, the world outside the Glade, and they can’t escape. Surrounded by an enormous wall, only the fastest and bravest, the Runners, are allowed to venture into the maze day after day, mapping it, trying to find a way to escape. Nothing ever changes in this fairly self-sufficient society – but some more so than others sense that there might be something odd about Thomas and his never-ending curiosity…
Friendship and empowerment, doom and angst
The world that the Gladers live in is fairly straightforward. Their leader Alby (Aml Ameen), together with his second-in-command Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), attempts to keep their little society in check: everyone has to contribute to their survival, and everyone needs to respect the rules, because they’re all in danger. When the gates to the Maze close, things are out there, and nobody stands a chance of survival if they face them. But even during his initial disorientation, Thomas starts asking uncomfortable questions; more than anything, he just wants it to end, to go back home – wherever or whatever ‘home’ is. The beauty of this film is the way it mixes the different emotions so well with the environment: fear and hatred, curiosity, bravery, sorrow, and last but not least, despair. The boys at the Glade have largely accepted their fate, but most still dream of finding a way out. A society like this only works if they all respect the same values, and they do. But some are more absorbed into that little world of theirs than others – and where you have fear and despair, you easily have fanaticism if anything happens out of the ordinary…
Claustrophobic world and soul
The Maze is a dangerous place, changing its layout at night and making it almost impossible to survive. It’s a bleak, dreary, and somewhat forgotten place, reflecting perfectly the situation that the boys are in, but it is a world in its own. For the Gladers, no outside world exists – there is no memory, no history, and it is highly nonsensical. It is this point that divides the Gladers so: if there is nothing else to know, why should they even try to leave? But if they have no way of remembering, shouldn’t they attempt to make new meaningful memories? Is survival the same as living? The film plays with your feelings in its heaviness, in its being more of a looming threat than a fast-paced action movie, but it does have its moments especially towards the end, and those are likely to make you jump in your seat. It’ll keep your focus steady, and it feeds your curiosity and conspiracy theories with every small detail that it drops along the way. But unlike most other recent Young Adult Dystopias, you’re unlikely to figure it all out by yourself, and even when you do, the movie takes another turn and punches you in the face. Of course there is the occasional death or two, but that’s not the shocking part – the shocking part is what’s out there. Or is there anything at all?
Straightforward, somewhat stereotypical characters
The thing about not having any recollection of past events – of not having a past to speak of – is that there is not really anything to hide. And while it might be easy to say that this is just a way of being lazy on character creation, it isn’t really; all of the characters have a hint of a past about them, and no matter how much they want to hide their feelings, they’re all scared. Of course in a film like this, you have the straightforward good guys, and you have the straightforward bad guys, and you know right from the start who is who. While that is certainly problematic in some movies, this black-and-white thinking is able to guide you through the movie, and they become more full-fledged characters the more trouble they’re in. Yes, the plot itself, without the background of a possible conspiracy or an outside world, may be fairly predictable, but that’s not necessarily the movie’s fault; it may simply be the abundance of Young Adult dystopian fiction (or more precisely their adaptations) that have built up our repertoire about these films. Roughly, you know what’s going to happen early on, but the devil, truly, is in the details.
An intense, confusing ride
Of all the recent adaptations, I lean towards saying that I am intrigued by The Maze Runner the most. It is a fascinating psychological and philosophical experiment that won’t give you any rest until you’ve figured out what’s going on – and even when you do, you’ll leave the cinema with a sense of ‘What the hell just happened?’ The group dynamics of this little society will make you care and despise characters, but ultimately you’ll feel sorry and somewhat root for all of them. It’s dark and serene, it’s creepy, it’s emotional, but not overly so. It may be argued that Maze Runner’s universe is incomplete and the background that drives it all not deeply established, but while it may have gotten lower ratings due to that, I suppose that is the point of it all. The sense of incompleteness adds to the experience, makes you understand the characters more than anything. The premise that is shockingly revealed at the end adds another layer to this world, but it doesn’t do much to actually resolve your questions, propelling you not very subtly but quite aggressively towards its inevitable sequel. For my part, I’m not sure I want to wait to see what happens, and if the novels are written as well as the movie is directed, I’ll eat them up in no time.