The Darkest Minds

 

            “The Darkest Minds” is based on the Young Adult novel by Alexandra Brachen, where a mysterious disease suddenly attacks children.  Most of them die off.  The rest, as if absorbing the energy from all those dead spirits, develop extraordinary abilities.  Some can generate electricity, some can move matter, some can levitate objects, some can read minds, some can even persuade telepathically.  Yes, some of those “powers” resemble those who use “The Force” in the Star Wars series.  And, as in Star Wars, the government is oppressive and brutal, and the ones who desire freedom have to live in exile, if they can survive at all.

            Ruby (Amandla Stenberg) is a girl who at first wonders why she's surviving the rampaging disease, and then she discovers that she's one of the ones with extra abilities that she doesn't yet understand, and hasn't yet learned to harness or control.  Like all the child survivors, she's taken away from her parents and placed in a government camp, which is ostensibly to protect the children, but actually it serves to imprison them, and make them do grunt work (like make shoes on an assembly line).  After six years in the sweatshops, Amandla manages to escape with the help of a friendly doctor, Cate (Mandy Moore), who, it turns out, is part of “The League” which says it's opposing the government's oppression, but then Ruby finds another kid who tells her that those in “The League” are not the good guys.  Liam (Harris Dickinson) along with his buddy Chubs (Skylan Brooks) are seeking the secret hideout of a bunch of kids, led by Clancy (Patrick Gibson), who, it turns out, is not the noble rebel leader he makes himself out to be.  So Ruby finds herself once more on the run, still attempting to discover who she is, and realizing that she can't go back home again, because she knows it would never be the same.

            There's a sad undertone to all these orphan stories:  the kids who manage to survive are treated cruelly, and have lost the moorings of family, and forgotten how to have any fun.  Worse, the rest of the world is headed toward a quick extinction because there's no next generation.  The silver lining is that the kids grow up fast, and some learn self-reliance, independence, and the importance of friendships, which are indeed valuable lessons.  But nobody's inheriting a world that anybody really wants.

            The problem with the screenplay is the inconsistent use of the “special abilities” and a lack of explanation about what they are.  Yes, there's some special effects of the eyes lighting up and changing color, but there's also some outlier scenes of Nazi-type prison guards and #MeToo testimony about the infamous casting couch.  But there's just enough forward motion to keep us from dwelling too much on the negatives, and Amandla Stenberg is a strong choice for the lead character, because she commands the screen.  Perhaps next time she'll have more positive material.

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association