Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Society of Denial

"The Maze Runner” a film, 2014

This is another post-apocalyptic ‘young adult’ (teenager!) story about life in a strange new world.  It is similar to the ‘Hunger Games’ series, ‘Divergent,’ ‘Planet of the Apes,’ and ‘World War Z’ and material now showing up on network TV in shows like ‘The 100.’  Older film versions of this trend include ‘Mad Max,’ ‘Terminator,’ ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘The Matrix.'  It resonates with even older written stories like ‘Robinson Crusoe’ and ‘Lord of the Flies.’ In this case it portrays boys making a life without adults.  One theory about the massive flood of post-apocalyptic fiction aimed at young people is that it deals with corporate society’s deep denial that anything is fundamentally wrong.  Instead these stories intimate that there is a hidden, dreadful story not being told, examined or dealt with.  In that sense these books and films reflect a form of cultural dissent.

The Maze Runner

Once each month, disoriented boys are lifted up in a rumbling factory elevator into ‘The Glade” – a green oasis surrounded by very high walls.  They remember almost nothing.  There a group of mostly white boys led by a black teenager, Alby, grow crops, make homemade liquor, pledge to work and not to harm each other.   They are divided up into ‘builders,’ ‘slicers’ and ‘runners’ - sort of primitive communism inside a prison.  They have built huts, a tower and oddly enough, have a punishment cell dug in the ground.

Each morning the narrow tall gates of one wall open, and each evening they close.  “Maze runners” have been running the maze that surrounds the Glade for 3 years trying to find a way out.  They have not succeeded.  Yet if they are caught in the maze after the doors close, they do not survive, being attacked by something called ‘grievers’ – which turn out to be huge mechanical spiders.  Into this world of boys comes Thomas, a white kid, who immediately wants to know how to get out, and can’t understand why ‘they’ have locked them inside.  Who ‘they’ is, is, as usual, unclear. 

In the failed attempt at 'diversity,' there are no Latinos in this group of boys, just white, black and Asian. Thomas, the last boy lifted up, immediately rescues Alby and the Asian runner, Minho, and in the process, lures a griever to its death as the maze changes and crushes one.  This is the first griever that has ever been killed.  Like most American movies, in this film stock 'leader’ worship is high.  No one can seem to do anything unless a smart and forceful person tells them to do it.  This pattern reflects the lack of community in the U.S., where single ‘heroes’ dominate film after film and the society at large, when very few have ever been in a democratic group or even know how to work together outside a job.  Reflecting this, Alby and Minho have hidden from the rest of the boys that they think there is no exit from the Maze.  Another stock character is part of the group, the thuggish rule-bound authoritarian, this time played by a big kid named Gally.  Gally opposes ever leaving the Glade. There is even the stock chubby/pathetic Piggy / Samwell Tarly stand-in called Chuck.

The final situation is set up when a teenage girl is lifted into the Glade with a note that indicates she is 'the last one.'   With her help, Thomas eventually remembers/understands that this place is not a prison but a test, and that the point IS to get out.  (While they say that the ‘ivy’ does not climb high enough to get to the top of the walls, there are enough trees for wood to build a tower/ladder to the top of the wall, then haul ladders up and make ladder bridges across the walls of the maze and out, but that would have spoiled the story!)

Thomas convinces the majority that he has discovered the way out in an earlier run through the maze.  Gally stays with the minority, fearing the grievers.  The rest take poles and various half-assed weapons and head out, several dying, unbelievably fighting off the giant grievers, until they dial the exit code on some digital panel (a code which has not been discussed until the very last seconds) and race out of the maze. 

This is the first of a 3 part series, so what is outside besides a sequel?  Dead people.  A destroyed lab.  Yes it was an experiment, and all the ‘scientists’ are dead. The point was to find young humans smart or gutsy enough to get out. So it has that creepy bourgeois ‘chosen’ ones vibe going again.  Unbelievably, Gally has somehow followed them out and is intent on stopping them.  At that moment what looks like American soldiers come storming in and shoot Gally just as he kills the saintly loser Chuck, who melodramatically takes a bullet for the chosen Thomas.  Then the soldiers take the kids out on camo helicopters and fly over the Iraqi desert – or some such place.  You see, the world burned up.   Global warming?  No one is telling. 

This film is a rush, and one of the more intense YA films and worth watching.  The author did not want to reveal what caused this situation, unlike more political authors like Edward Abbey, who makes it clear in 'Good News' that it was a corporate civilization that used up nature.  Suzanne Collins, who wrote the 'Hunger Games' series, also makes it clear that inequality is the cause of the misery of most of the districts.  This inability by so many YA authors to identify actual causes reflects their real political cowardice. 

The Hunger Games,” Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” World War Z,” “The Road,” “Cloud Atlas,” and the novel in which the film “Blade Runner” was based on, are reviewed below.  Another post-apocalyptic book reviewed is:  Good News.”  Use blog search box, upper left.

Red Frog
January 27, 2015

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