In one of the worst moments of “The Darkest Minds,” a film which is on the whole pretty dismal, the lead male teen, Liam, asks the lead female teen, Ruby, to dance. Ruby says no and rather than taking that as an answer, Liam uses his ability to move objects with his mind to levitate Ruby to the dance floor. There, the two dance and the audience is given the impression that for the moment all is right with the world. Even Ruby seems okay with the way things have transpired at that moment.
No means no, and it is mindboggling that “The Darkest Minds” would offer up some sort of “she doesn’t really mean it” sort of excuse.
Although the above scene may be the most offensive one the Jennifer Yuh Nelson directed movie has to offer, it is by no means the only one that will cause the audience to wonder what they’ve gotten themselves into. Time and time again, “The Darkest Minds” will leave folks scratching their heads because, simply put, it doesn’t make any sense.
Within the first 20 minutes of the film it becomes abundantly clear, even if one doesn’t know the origins of the tale, that this is a work based on a YA book series. And, in fact, it is – the series is written by Alexandra Bracken and the fourth entry was released earlier this week.
There have been great YA novels, and there have been some really good movies based on YA novels. The complaint in the above paragraph is not the source material for the movie, but rather the fact that one winds up with the unshakeable belief that so much of the source material has been left out of the finished movie (the screenplay is by Chad Hodge). There are moments in the film where it is nearly impossible to figure out the various groups and their motivations, what has happened to the world at large, and how the United States could possibly have progressed in such a fashion.
What exactly is going on?
Well, when Ruby Daly is 10 (played by Lidya Jewett at that age), a mysterious illness sweeps through the country killing a whole lot of children (official materials from the movie tell me it’s 98% of kids, but if that info is in the movie itself, I missed it). Those who survive the illness gain special abilities (superpower-type stuff). This in turn scares the government who decides to kill anyone with a “dangerous” ability and put the rest of the children in prison camps. Meanwhile, the US President (Bradley Whitford) insists that his son, Clancy (Patrick Gibson), has been cured of this disease but and Clancy goes on the radio regularly saying as much. At age 16, Ruby (now Amandla Stenberg), who has shown herself to be amongst the most powerful kids, escapes with some help. From there we go on her adventure with Liam (Harris Dickinson), Chubs (Skylan Brooks), and Zu (Miya Cech). The group is looking for a potentially mythical place where kids are free.
Virtually none of this, of course, makes any sense. If no children are being born and those which are alive only exist in prison camps, is the goal for the human race to die out? The economy has tanked because of these problems, how is that? What exactly has Clancy been cured of, the disease that kills everyone or having superpowers? Why is a power like being super smart bad anyway? Who are any of the groups that fight back against the governments (because of course those exist)? Why is Liam against being a soldier in one of the groups (he says he doesn’t want to be a soldier), but totally okay with it in another?
The longer “The Darkest Minds” runs, the more questions are raised in the thoughts of the audience and virtually none of them are answered. One can only presume that the book functions far better in this regard and that if this film is a success, many of those blanks will be filled in.
However, we can only review what we have been on screen, and that is wholly lackluster. The pieces of information that are meted out emerge in terribly awkward fashion. While the cast is fine (save Jewett being unconvincing in a crucial scene), they are not able to elevate the affair into something better, and the potential teen romance angle elicits as many chuckles as it does swoons.
There are even moments when the movie seems to want to discuss race, with the kids in the camp divided based on abilities, and each type of ability is given a color. Any discussion along these lines is at best stilted, and all too brief.
While I would love the opportunity to talk with someone who has read the books about their understanding of the movie and whether it worked for them, I can say that if one hasn’t read the books, there is simply no reason to sit down and watch the movie.
photo credit: 20th Century Fox