darkest minds book cover

While it delivers on action and adventure, "Darkest Minds" lacks the emotional connection developed in the book.

Innocence is a celebrated quality in children that society oftentimes glorifies. In Alexandra Bracken’s book “The Darkest Minds,” she questions whether society would still covet children if that innocence was taken away and replaced with something sinister. In main character Ruby Daly’s experience, when deadly powers are put in the hands of children, innocence can disappear as a result of deeply-rooted fear.

New York Times best-seller “The Darkest Minds” takes place in a dystopian future America that’s fallen into chaos after a deadly disease kills a majority of the country’s children. As the surviving children develop special abilities, the government begins to hunt them and place them in camps.

The book follows Ruby as she escapes camp and travels throughout West Virginia and Virginia with a band of other kids trying to reach a safe haven. Along the way, they have to escape Children’s League recruiters trying to convince them to join an army of children, and bounty hunters and government agents trying to capture them. To make matters worse, Ruby has a secret: she has the dangerous ability to manipulate minds that the government fears — and she internally struggles throughout the novel learning to control herself while not letting the others find out.

Like most book-turned-movie situations, “The Darkest Minds” follows the typical trend of not meeting expectations. While action-packed and full of adventure, it was hard to follow with little-to-no background information given, a fast-paced plot and no deep, emotional connections made between characters.

In its attempt to include as many parts of the book as possible, the movie tends to rush through some of its scenes. This leads to complicated concepts not being properly explained, and the audience is left confused. To hurry along the story, the backgrounds of the kids Ruby joins — Liam, Chubs and Zu — are skipped out on and the audience can only guess at their motives and personalities. Not only does this lead to underdeveloped relationships between them, but it also complicates situations when their stories become necessary information later.

The movie rushes through the explanations of Ruby’s time at camp and her story before the timeframe of the plot, causing a huge set-back in her character development. The audience is left unaware of Ruby’s mental battle of wanting to hide her identity as a result of all that she endured beforehand. She mistrusts herself and the control she has over her powers, so she’s hesitant to form bonds with the other kids. Her eventual acceptance of being an “Orange” — a kid with mind-control ability — and learning to control her power is a gradual progression in the book that’s completely lost in the movie.

As a Virginian myself, one of my favorite parts of the book was the setting. Unlike other books I’ve read, “The Darkest Minds” geographically follows the kids’ journey throughout the Virginias to East River, the promised safe haven, and provides accurate details of highways and town names. At one point, the group even goes through Harrisonburg, and the book uses JMU as a talking point to explain what happened to colleges once the children were gone.

As satisfying as it was being able to connect with the book on a personal level, the movie leaves these details out completely. Beyond having the main destinations, such as Salem, Virginia, for Ruby’s hometown and Lake Prince, Virginia, for East River, there are no specific places mentioned. In my opinion, this is a let-down because it takes away from the audience having a strong personal connection to the story.

The most disappointing comparison between the book and movie were general plot points that were unnecessarily tampered with. While it’s not unusual for Hollywood to change things around when converting books, messing with plot points tends to displease an audience who’s well-aware of how things should've been. The final reveal of East River does still contain its plot twist, but the events and details were completely off. Even if the changes didn’t ruin the main story, it still failed to meet expectations set by the book.

Overall, the movie by itself was average — confusing and rushed, but still interesting enough to be entertaining. Having read the book, I found it to be lacking important details and very dull in comparison without any emotional appeal. Without these added touches, “The Darkest Minds” film is yet another dystopian thriller that combines action-adventure with a thrown-together romance for an all-around dissatisfying and predictable outcome.

Contact Brittany Bell at bellbl@dukes.jmu.edu. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.  

Brittany Bell is a senior writer for the Culture section of The Breeze. She’s a sophomore double major in Media Arts & Design, concentration in Journalism, and Writing Rhetoric and Technical Communication.