Given my taste for dystopian fiction and their film and theater adaptations , it is no surprise that I was interested in seeing the film adaptation to “The Maze Runner” even without having read the books first (although I shall have to add them to my reading list). I was pleased with the characters and the plot of what I saw, and found enough worthy to discuss in the film that I thought it was worth discussing two elements separately rather than try to combine them into one entry. In looking at this film, within the body of dystopian literature that has become increasingly popular in print and screen over the past decade or so, there are some obvious parallels that reflect to me some alarming societal trends that are worthy of notice and commentary. Being a person who is particularly sensitive to patterns, I find myself concerned and alarmed about the portents of these consistent patterns that I find in this literature, especially as I feel that such concerns are warranted in light of social conditions.
Among the patterns that show up over and over again in dystopian literature is the unscrupulous plotting and dark agendas of those in authority that end up leading to massive amounts of suffering and torment for those innocent and vulnerable people who end up having to endure tests. Whether one is dealing with being pit against others in gladiatorial combat, being divided into competitive factions and manipulated into conflict for the sake of ego-driven leadership, or being deprived of one’s memories and sent into a dangerous maze, these books and movies present a clear picture that people in authority are not to be trusted. In such circumstances there is literally no safe place from either the threat of death or the horrible results of post-traumatic stress disorder that bring back the endless nightmares over and over and over again.
Why do I watch these films and read these books over and over again? Clearly I am not alone in this–these books sell millions of copies and the films make hundreds of millions of dollars, suggesting there are a lot of people like me who perhaps have no taste for horror but cannot get enough of similar harrowing stories of brave and resilient and resourceful people overcoming the dastardly plots of others at a heavy cost to their own peace of mind and well-being. It strikes me as if this type of literature serves two purposes. Given the vivid nature of the prose, it appears that many people who write use writing as therapy to wrestle with the demons of our own culture and our own experiences. Whether the writing is autobiographical or observational, those who write these fiction clearly have some sort of deep suffering that leads them to write in the search of catharsis, in full knowledge that many people would be able to relate to what was written, reading and viewing hoping for a cathartic experience that could at least provide some optimism about there being some worthwhile purpose for the suffering and peril of our own lives.
The second purpose is just as important. It would appear as if the steady drumbeat of mistrust and suspicion of this sort of literature and film is designed as a sort of vaccination against people being taken in by the deceptive plotting of others. As the vulnerable and impressionable are continually at risk of being slaughtered for the corrupt purposes of dictators and demagogues, the fact that fiction points to this danger over and over again seeks to give those who are targeted or vulnerable to such treatment a sense of mistrust about being abused or taken advantage of. This is a wise warning to give. Even though some trust is necessary for success, the establishment of faith, and at times even survival, it is clear that such trust cannot be given blindly or too easily. There are a lot of people who are simply not worthy of our trust, although all of these various dystopian works show that at least some small group of people, however outnumbered and beleaguered, are worthy of trusting with one’s life given the immense stakes. It appears as if this powerful appeal to the trustworthiness of some peers at least who have one’s best interests at heart and share the same spirit of self-sacrifice is necessary to provide some optimism to what would otherwise be immensely grim and despairing works of literature. And however pessimistic they may be, people who create writings designed to inform and persuade, whether fictional or nonfictional, have some sense of hope or optimism that what they write or say will have some difference in the course of human history.
We live in a world that is ruled over by darkness, subject to death and decay, filled with peril and horror. We do not need literature to teach us these things. Most of us do not survive our childhoods without some experience with the suffering that darkens our lives and those of every other man, woman, and child that lives on the face of this haunted planet. Thousands of years of sin and folly, to which we have all contributed some share, however small, aided and abetted by fallen spirits full of fear and fury, although countered by thousands of years of love and kindness and divine providence working in deeply mysterious ways, have created the complicated world which we all must navigate like a maze. What we need literature to do is to provide us with the imagination that allows us to see some sort of positive resolution to the trials and tests we see in our lives. We need to know that no matter how dark the world looks, there is hope of restoration and positive resolution. For without hope, we cannot endure. And given the lives we all have to live and the darkness of our world, we have much need of endurance.
 See, for example: