The Maze Runner

The Maze Runner is one of the latest batch of Dystopian films aimed at a young/new adult audience and it has plenty of potential to kick start discussions with teens. (The film is based on a novel but I'm considering primarily the film here, although most of the main points I'm making will also cross over to the book.)                                                                       The story begins with the main character, Thomas, being yanked fast up a vertical dark lift shaft, and held only by a container which is about as stable as a fruit basket, and (rather worryingly) contains several items of food. He has no idea where he is, where he's going, or why. When Thomas arrives in the blinding light at the end of this terrifying journey, he still has no idea who he is or where he's come from. Not even his name, at first. But, once the initial panic has passed, Thomas realises that he has found a warm and stable community of young people, who've been forced to make a home at the centre of what seems like an impenetrable man-made maze.                                                              As a coming-of-age story, the premise of the maze is interesting (especially in an era obsessed with the endless testing and labelling of young people), but it quickly becomes clear that the real story here is the young adults responses to their fate. How they get an emotional handle on being the subjects of an experiment. And it is this human angle which lifts The Maze Runner out of the science fiction cliche it might have been and into the realm of really useful empathy media.                                               You might find the following ideas/questions helpful in a guided discussion:                                                     Thomas' moral and emotional journey: Q. Does Thomas take responsibility for the younger boy, Chuck, in the beginning? How does this change? (At the outset Thomas is trying to save himself, but by the end of the film he is trying to save everybody.)                                     Q. How does Thomas' view of the maze differ from Albie's? (Albie has concluded the maze is an un-winnable test and quite impenetrable. He seeks only to build a community, to alleviate suffering. Thomas, on the other hand, seeks to beat the system.) Who is right? Do Albie and Thomas need each other? How do they work together?                                         Exploring questions around guilt and self-forgiveness (especially important for those teens who seem to need to learn through trying things out and making mistakes): Q. What does Thomas mean when he says, 'This is my fault. I did this.'? What does Newt mean when he replies, 'That doesn't matter now, Thomas. Who we were then. What matters now is who you were when you woke up. What you'll do now.'? (Thomas realises he's been complicit in creating the dangerous situation they now all find themselves in. Newt guides Thomas through this potential mine field of guilt, helps Thomas to find a way to go on, reminding him that his contribution is absolutely vital. That he has no right to write himself off when the others, like small Chuck, still need him.)  
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Wes Ball
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