SPOILER ALERT: This post contains major plot points, detailed thematic analysis, and a couple ideas that might actually make you think. Read at your own risk.
What do you get when you throw Lord of the Flies, The Hunger Games, and Dawn of the Dead into a blender and hit “puree”? You get the latest theatric installment in James Dashner’s Maze Runner series (and this time, there are no actual mazes. Weird).
The timing of The Scorch Trials could not be more apt. The film – which happens to debut on the eve of Pope Francis’ highly anticipated visit to the United States – touches on some deep ethical questions – questions which, thanks to a certain baby-part-selling organization, have received national attention in recent months.
So what does Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials have to do with Planned Parenthood and the Roman Pontiff’s trip?
I’ll get to that. First, a few comments on the film itself.
I enjoyed this flick, and I think you will too. In many ways, it’s the typical dystopian young adult fare we’ve grown accustomed to, but thankfully with less drama and fewer obnoxious love triangles.
What Happens: The story picks up where part one left off. After the exodus from the Glade and an encounter with WCKD’s infamous Dr. Ava Paige, Thomas and his comrades are transported to a remote, fortified outpost.
After discovering what appears to be a WCKD conspiracy to detain the “immunes” and drain them of life, the Gladers escape the facility and enter the deadly, rugged terrain known as “The Scorch.” There the teens journey to safe haven in the mountains, all the while running (yes, surprise surprise, there’s more running in this one) from virus-infected Zombies – err, “Cranks.”
- Not a family friendly film. Packed with [teens engaging in] violence, colorful language, crude hand gestures, and a pretty raunchy “club” scene reminiscent of an acid trip, this ain’t a movie for young kids.
- Some poor character development. About a third of the way through the movie, Winston dies. All the other kids are deeply affected by this death. I wasn’t. Who is this guy? Was he even in the first movie?
- Why is Minho indestructible? I mean, the kid gets hit by lightning and remains unfazed. Oh, and where can I get some of his hair gel? That stuff seems to last forever.
- You’re always kept guessing. Who is WCKD? What happened in Thomas’ past? And what’s up with Teresa?
- Excellent young acting, for the most part.
- Action-packed and entertaining. If you like death-defying scenes of kids running from scary monsters (and let’s face it – why else would anyone see a Maze Runner movie?), you’ll enjoy this film.
That said, The Scorch Trials is about far more than chase sequences and Minho’s perfect haircut. At the heart of the conflict lies a profound moral question: Is it ever right to use human beings as a means to an end?
WCKD and Classical Utilitarianism
The classical utilitarians believed morally right actions are those which yield the greatest good for the greatest number. According to utilitarianism, any action is permissible as long as the ends justify the means.
Case in point: WCKD. In order to stave off the impending pandemic, WCKD members clandestinely capture immune kids, drug them, hook them up to blood-sucking machines, and drain them of precious, infection-slowing fluids. Think of it like blood donation, except… not donation. It’s forced. The kids are commodities to be taken and used to save the lives of the infected.
Dialogue from the end of the movie simply drips with utilitarian language. Janson, one of WCKD’s chief henchmen, refers to what they are doing as “the greater good.” In the same climactic scene, the antagonist Dr. Paige delivers this line:
“This is all just a means to an end. You used to understand that, Thomas. I swore an oath to find a cure, no matter the cost.”
The greater good? Means to an end? These phrases smell an awfully lot like enlightenment philosophy.
Planned Parenthood and Baby Parts
The moral dilemma posed in The Scorch Trials may be less obscure – and more culturally relevant – than it seems at first glance.
If the allegations against Planned Parenthood are true, then a government-funded organization is actively engaged in the taking and selling of human organs, with no regard for the dignity or rights of the unborn. This, friends, is utilitarianism at its darkest.
It’s a reduction of the human person to simply what he or she can provide.
All the while, our Church speaks what The Maze Runner’s Thomas knows in his heart to be true:
“A good intention (for example, that of helping one’s neighbor) does not make behavior that is intrinsically disordered, such as lying and calumny, good or just. The end does not justify the means.” (CCC, 1753).
Pope Francis: Still Not Changing Church Teaching Since 2013
With the Holy Father’s visit finally upon us, the usual speculation about the new, liberal pope “changing the teachings” has, of course, resurfaced.
But regardless of how many dissenting Catholics show up at the White House, Pope Francis is never going to change the Catholic Church’s position on marriage, the priesthood, or the intrinsic dignity of the human person.
He, perhaps better than most, understands the cultural crisis highlighted in The Scorch Trials and exemplified by Planned Parenthood. As he reminds us in Laudato Si’:
“How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings…if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties?” (Laudato Si’, 120).
Pope Francis’ message is not one of change, but one of mercy, compassion, and hope. Let us pray that through our Holy Father’s visit, people of our nation may discover a renewed reverence for human life, from conception until natural death.