Friday, September 26, 2014

Running Through a Maze of a Plot

Last night my husband and I went to see The Maze Runner movie. I'd read about thirty pages of the YA bestseller sitting in Barnes and Noble and really liked the writing, but had little concept of the plot. Both book and movie start with a boy who has no memory of his past life and no idea what's going on, leaving the equally-clueless audience to figure out the strange world with him. It's rare to leave us that ignorant (usually the first few minutes give you enough to guess time period and genre), but it worked really well.

"The Maze Runner" is about a boy who wakes up in a janky elevator with no memory. Doors open and a bunch of other boys his age welcome him into their cement-walled agricultural community where everyone seems to get along peaceably as long as no one leaves the Glade.

Every morning a door opens in their hundred-yard-high prison onto a maze full of dangers, closing again each night when terrible-sounding creatures stalk the maze and kill anyone still out in it. Finding a way through the maze is their only way to get out, but none of the boys know or remember what's out there and here in the Glade everything is provided for them month after month via the elevator, which also brings a new boy every time.

But when Thomas (as he comes to be known) arrives, things begin to change, both in the maze and in the Glade.

As far as leaving the audience guessing, this movie did a better job than any I've seen before. I usually have 3-5 guesses of how the ending will turn out, but I had no idea how everything was going to connect and make sense. Even knowing that this was dystopian fiction gave me no hints. The film kept me guessing along with the characters: anything  could be out there, anyone could be sending the boys to the Glade one by one, anything could be the reason for the horrifying monsters' attacks...

The pace of discovery was perfect. A new clue would surface, sending them on some daring escapade which would unearth another clue. The plot was driven by a mix of intrepid characters and world-falling-apart circumstances beyond their control. It was a perfect blend, and when you consider that this is a book-to-movie adaptation, I'm even more impressed with how well they paced the reveals.

When I read The Finisher by David Baldacci, it raised an equal number of questions--many of the same questions, actually. (Who put all the Wugs in the village and why? What was out there beyond the Quag and was there a way through? What was behind the monsters' strangely targeted attacks?) With fantastic writing, pacing, and character development, we follow Vega as she overcomes struggles with her fellow Wugs and finds a way through the Quag...

And that's it. The Finisher wraps up with zero explanation. There are no answers. We don't know who put the Wugs in the village or why; we don't know what's beyond the Quag (the book ends with her flying away into the sunset); we don't know anything about the monsters except that they have mysterious connections with several Wugs; and the magic power and strange visions Vega gets that help her ultimately escape the village are never explained. It was the most well-written pointless book I've ever read, which is why it earned only one ☻ from me in my Book Reviews.

"The Maze Runner" doesn't do that. We learn who put the boys were in the Glade and part of the reason why; we learn some of what is beyond the maze, as well as whether or not there's actually a way out. But we're also shown enough to know that not everything we've been told is true.

Being a series, it does leave some questions open at the end of the movie, perhaps more questions than normal. My husband came away wanting more of an explanation, but I have a feeling that telling us any more would allow us to figure out the next mystery too easily. 

As to the rest of the movie, the sets were gorgeous. The Glade and the maze were alive with personality. The Glade had a lived-in, boyish feel and the maze looked like the Labyrinth from Greek myth would if rebuilt by futuristic minds: classic stone and ivy with moving parts and modern shapes. It added to the mystery and the sense of, "Where the heck is this?"

I was impressed with all the boys' acting. This wasn't protagonist-and-vague-background-characters; each of the secondary characters had significant speaking parts and an important role in the plot only they could fill. Four of them had significant character development.

I was also impressed they maintained racial diversity among the boys, something we're finally seeing more and more in YA movies like this.

Final conclusion: go see it. Then see it again, because like "The Prestige," once you know what happens you'll have to watch it again to catch everything. But that first time, let yourself be confused. Let yourself slowly uncover the mysteries alongside the characters and enjoy.

Post script: There are no jump scenes (despite the times you think there will be!). I'm the girl who still screams aloud at all three of the jump scenes in "Finding Nemo," so if I tell you this movie is safe, you can believe me.


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