This past weekend, I finished reading The Maze Runner by James Dashner. Then my son, Luke, and I went to see the movie. As is so often the case, the book was far better than the film. We both agreed on that. Nevertheless, both were entertaining.
Whenever I read any fiction of watch any movie, TV show or even go to the theatre (rarely, sadly), I’m always on the lookout for connections between the story and the Story; themes which affirm that the one Story which is most profoundly true is still leaving echoes inside human beings, even broken ones. It seems that we simply cannot tell stories without reflecting in numerous ways the deeper reality of who we are, what we need, what we desire, what we long for, why we matter . . . I could go on. And every time I read stories, I’m reminded of how astonishingly vacuous, misguided, colourless and profoundly untrue is the Story given by our culture. I speak, of course, of secularism humanism. Materialism. Atheism. A story so unutterably awful and false, it deserves to be shamed every time it rears its ugly head.
Time plus Matter plus Chance is no Story to hang your hat on. It is devoid of Hope.
What are stories? They are the means by which we discover meaning. That verb I use advisedly. Discover. Filmmakers don’t necessarily think through the deeper themes of what they communicate. Sometimes they do – the Wachowski brothers, the Cohen brothers are exceptions, perhaps – but mostly, they unwittingly reveal Truth simply by reflecting on what makes humans tick, what drives us, what we desire, the forces with which we wrestle. The best ones know instinctively what makes a great story. They can recognize a great script and what is needed to turn it into a beautiful work of art.
And then, of course, there’s just old-fashioned entertainment. Make stuff blow up and male teens are hooked. Let’s call that our baser nature!
So, what connections, what cracked mirrors did I find in The Maze Runner? Here are a few:
Contains mild spoilers.
The boys are sent to a glade in the middle of a giant maze by people called Creators. Captivity is bad. They desire freedom.
The Creators, who have imprisoned them, are considered the enemy. A dystopian vision of the future is a very common theme nowadays.
The boys live in community, each one learning to do a job necessary for the survival of the group. They must work together to survive.
The boys who are sent to the Glade don’t know who they are. They can only remember their names. Loss of core identity causes great pain.
One boy, however, is different. He’s the main character called Thomas. He is a salvation figure, who goes through a process of self-discovery as his memory returns gradually. (Done well in the book, very badly in the film). He is opposed by a boy who’s angry, who blames him for their condition. Thomas has a real-life enemy who’s trying to obstruct him in his quest to save the group.
The boys have a clear purpose: to escape from the Maze. They discover a code – meaning – which helps them work out how to escape from the Maze. The Creators, they discover, have set them a test. Strength, perseverance, working as a team, bravery are the qualities needed to pass the test.
Yet . . .
Protecting the weak is good. In an agonizing scene near the end, our hero, who has led his people to freedom – echoes of the Exodus – is unable to save his friend. It’s a moving moment in the book. Less so in the film.
Not surprisingly, there is the inevitable scene in which one of the boys sacrifices himself to save another.
Drenched with pathos and heart-rending to watch – mirroring as it does the greatest act of love performed on earth – paying the ultimate price for the sake of another will always move an audience to tears.
Which is as it should be.
Purpose. Value. Meaning.
Stories don’t work without this Holy Triumvirate. Characters must have value or we won’t care what happens to them. They must have a clear purpose. They must have a challenge to overcome. Actions must mean something and that meaning is related to the first two, that humans are valuable and we’re here for a reason. It seems so blindingly obvious, you’re probably wondering why I’m writing it down.
Because we need reminding.
All stories contain themes, tarnished reflections of the True Story. That human beings really are valuable. Not just for the purpose of a story, but really, truly valuable. That humans really do have a purpose on this planet. That actions contain meaning. It matters what choices you make because there is order – a way things should be – to the universe and even in our brokenness, we are still able to perceive it, though dimly.
And that’s why Time plus Matter plus Chance is so unutterably awful. No value. No purpose. No meaning. No . . . the way things should be. And of course, no Hope.
And it’s why our Big Story is not just wonderful because it is true. It is wonderful because it makes sense of our stories and our lives. C.S. Lewis once wrote,
I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.
And every time I read a story or watch a movie, I see the shining lights of Value, Purpose and Meaning, telling me that I’m valuable; I have a purpose, my actions mean something.
Now which book shall I read next . . . ?
© Richard Collins 2014