The Maze Runner: A Look at the Construct of Fear

mazerunnerYesterday while on the treadmill at Gold’s Gym, they showed the movie “The Maze Runner,” based on the novels by James Dashner. I found it fascinating. It’s not just some young-adult sci-fi move, but a perfect allegory for the fear we create in our lives. Fear is something we each face, particularly as we are developing new ideas, pushing the edge of invention, or just starting something new and different in our lives, so here are a few walk-aways from the movie.

In the movie, as a means for testing the survival skills of the next generation of youths, a number of boys and one girl are placed in a natural habitat surrounded by a mechanical Maze. The Maze shifts every night, confounding escape. The Maze is patrolled at night by giant, lethal mechanical spider creatures called Grievers. No one has seen a griever and lived to tell the tale, so there is fear among the boys because of lack of information. Left to the imagination, the fear takes over their lives and causes them to develop rules. The rules are there to “protect,” but as time passes, these rules also cause them to limit their own explorations and abilities to escape, and break free (of their fears). The Maze itself is a perfect allegorical tool for how our mind partners with our fears to always keep us constrained, shifting on us so that we never feel we can get out and be free and at peace.

The movie starts just as a new boy, Thomas, is dropped in on the group. He thinks differently, is curious, and shows empathy, courage, and is willing to keep on trying to figure things out even in the midst of dire circumstances. All aspects of a leader and entrepreneur.

One of the first things he does is risk his life for others, and kill a Griever. He does so by having paid attention to how the Grievers behaves and uses the changing Maze against the creature. Thomas thus uses circumstances which are scary and difficult, as a tool to be used to gain an advantage.

By now having a dead Griever to examine, the boys find out it is mechanical and extract a homing device key. Now, finally, they may just have the information they need to figure out how to escape the Maze. But this requires a willingness to change their environment, their perspectives on life, and their identities. No longer are they helpless victims, trying to survive. Now they are capable, conscious beings with the ability to understand their surroundings and figure things out and escape.

The question is, will they do so? There is much exploration within the group about rules, how rules keep groups alive, and yet when rules need to be cast aside because they no longer serve. The conversations in the movie are very interesting because they so effectively show circumstances both in group dynamics and in individual lives when rules can be a comfort, but they can also be a constraint. And if they are based on illusion and beliefs which are no longer (if they ever were) relevant, then they are the product only of fear. As we have all experienced, living in fear is a non-life.

Finally, there comes a time for a split in the group – those that stay because they cannot bring themselves to risk change, and those who cannot tolerate staying trapped where they are. This leads to two scenes which clinched the movie for me. The first is when Gally, the character who carries the voice and all the fear-based arguments for the group, has followed the others through the Maze’s exit portal. He has effectively escaped from the Maze, but he does this in order to kill them and stop their complete escape. (How often has your mind kicked in one last ditch time with paralyzing fear, trying to stop you from doing something you “know” is right? The mind can’t stand losing control.) He has so completely identified with his fear, that he cannot let himself or anyone else be free. His last words are “I am the Maze.” A cautionary depiction of when we think our fears are real and tie our personal identities to them.
The other brilliant moment in the film is the last scene, when the young survivors are taken in a helicopter and flown above the Maze. It is then that you see that this daunting, life-consuming thing is actually an artificial construct. Just like fears we have in our minds are artificial constructs. They are not real. They are illusions. And if we can just get above them, and see them for the “things” they are, we can have a fresh perspective and step right out of them.

So if you ever want to see a film that presents a great discussion on how fear works on us and on groups, and what fear truly is, and you can get passed the drooling Grievers, take a look at Maze Runner. I think it will surprise you.

by LIMOR SCHAFMAN

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