The Darkest Minds
August has long been associated with the doldrums of cinema. It’s too early for Oscar bait and too late for big blockbuster fun. Unfortunately for us, The Darkest Minds does everything in its power to rise to that level of expected mediocrity.
Based on the Young Adult book series by the same title, The Darkest Minds starts out full of promise. Some sort of sickness spreads wide across the planet and it kills nearly all children. An entire generation is just wiped away. The few surviving children are changed. They have all mutated to have some type of superpower. Rather than tapping into this new resource, our government decides to imprison these kids and keep them separated based on their abilities. Ten-year-old Ruby (Lidya Jewett at first, later played by Amandla Stenberg) wakes up after her birthday and her mother doesn’t remember her. Terrified of children, her mother calls the police, who come to collect Ruby. In the detention center’s sorting facility (much less enchanting than the Harry Potter sorting hat), Ruby is revealed to be an Orange Level mutant, and is labeled for immediate termination. Luckily, she can control minds and manages to change her designation to the safe Green Level to remain alive in the camp.
Somehow, Ruby is able to evade the highly advanced government for six full years while inside its facility. This is not the biggest problem in The Darkest Minds, just the first of many. From here, the film stumbles over its interesting premise in an attempt to craft a teen romance/Chosen One narrative that constantly breaks its own rules. If the Green Level kids are supposed to have enhanced intelligence, why are they all so dumb and given the most menial tasks? And why can’t any of them predict the ending that I saw coming a mile away?
The main crux of the plot starts after Ruby’s escape from the government work camp. She’s busted out by Cate (Mandy Moore) and quickly encounters a group of fleeing kids who tell Ruby that Cate cannot be trusted. The dreamy Liam (Harris Dickinson) is old enough and tall enough to drive, and Ruby chooses him over Cate. The roving gang of four kids then have to evade bounty hunters, Cate, and try to find a utopian camp of children that they’ve heard exists… somewhere.
Perhaps the biggest sin in The Darkest Minds is the film’s refusal to fully explore the world it creates. The possibility of an entire society without children could be an amazing story to tell. In fact, the single shot we see of a lot of rusting school buses hints at this fleeting awareness, but then it’s gone. The concept of mind control and the limitless possibilities it would possess might also have been fascinating, but that’s not explored with any depth. Instead, we get Ruby’s obsession with how cute Liam is, and how much Liam loves seeing Ruby wearing an impractical but pretty dress.
I could continue to go on about the boring stretches throughout the film, or the problematic way it frames Liam and Ruby’s romance (including being a terrible representation of both race and gender), but that’s all inconsequential.
Just don’t see it.