‘The Darkest Minds’ Movie Review: A Faithful Adaptation with Heart

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The most important thing that a movie can do when it’s adapting a book is capture the spirit of the source material. We all know that when we say we want a “faithful adaptation” we don’t mean a scene-be-scene carbon copy. All we want ensures is that the very thing that makes a book special — the heart — and its characters are respected and brought to the forefront.

When you fall in love with a book, you fall in love with the characters and their journeys. So when that story transitions to a more visual medium on film, you want to make sure that the magic isn’t lost.

With that said, The Darkest Minds movie was a solid and faithful adaptation of Alex Bracken’s compelling book. It began and ended with the same: With a focus on the characters and doing justice to the source material. As it is in the book, The Darkest Minds is told through Ruby’s eyes and voice. It’s through her that we meet Liam, Chubs, and Zu. And it’s through her that we see the bonds that have been formed and continue to form, with her, throughout the film.

The Darkest Minds isn’t a thriller with endless twist after twist. If you want that, go watch Mission Impossible. But if you want a character-driven story that has those high-stakes thrills with emotional payoff, this film is for you. At its core, The Darkest Minds is a road trip story. It’s about four kids — who have been through hell and back — that have found a family with each other. And there’s something so incredibly beautiful about tragic circumstances leading to beautiful destinations.

But not everyone is as big of The Darkest Minds as this girl. If you’re an old white man — like most of the critics that reviewed this film — then you might give it the same terrible reviews. But that’s just because they don’t seem to realize that not all movies are made for them. It’s important to have movies targeting all demographics. Young adult stories are important because it gives young adults an opportunity to see themselves in a character. That representation, as well as the diversity that this film preaches, is so incredibly important.

But if you recognize and understand the importance of great character stories — including those that involve young adults — you’ll find the beauty in this story. Just because they’re young adults doesn’t diminish their circumstances or the cruel world they’re living in. It doesn’t take away from their grit and determination that’s allowed them to survive for as long as they have. It doesn’t take away from the love that they’ve developed for strangers turned family.

The timing of The Darkest Minds couldn’t be more perfectly timed if you tried. While The Darkest Minds is a story that was written in 2012, the political awareness that this adaptation possesses is not lost on the viewer. Children placed in camps where they’re emotionally and physically abused because the government is afraid of them. Talk about relevant.

It’s also why I get so infuriated when people begrudge a politically-aware film because it happens to involve young adults instead of adults. An important film is an important film. And given what’s happening in the United States right now, The Darkest Minds is a film that people need to see. So that they watch it and perhaps say, ‘Wow. How horrible! How could a government do such a thing?’ And then realize that that’s exactly what our government is doing under our noses.

If anything, hopefully The Darkest Minds can bring awareness to the political injustice happening in our country and cause more people to realize that dystopian stories aren’t so far off anymore. This is happening. Now.

Perhaps The Darkest Minds’ greatest strength and weakness was that it was so faithful to the book. This was a film made specifically targeting the fanbase, so perhaps some general movie goers didn’t feel that same connection.

As a book fan, this film hit everything I wanted it to hit. I knew that, while the stakes are high throughout, at its core this story is about Ruby, Liam, Chubs and Zu. It’s a road trip story where these characters find the power of found family and find a reason to keep pushing forward in this cruel, corrupt society. I left the theater recognizing the allegiance to the book and feeling satisfied and thrilled with this adaptation. These characters leapt off the screen and their chemistry was the most convincing part of it all.

But as a general movie goer, I can’t help but feel that it was a tad harder to get as invested as the general book fan. The film did feel fast paced at times as it blew through backstory that the book really delves into, including about IAAN and this world that Ruby, Liam, Chubs, and Zu are living in. The Darkest Minds was so similar to the book that, as a stand-alone movie, it doesn’t have the same impact to non-book fans.

Given that I am a fan of the books, The Darkest Minds was the adaptation that I wanted. The entire cast breathed life into these characters. Amandla Stenberg brought a fierce determination and vulnerability to Ruby. Harris Dickinson brought the lovable and incredibly protective southern gentleman in Liam. Miya Cech managed to convey the array of Zu’s emotions and actions in a visual manner, which is a lot more difficult than it sounds, all while being the cutest thing to ever grace my screen. Not to mention Skylan Brooks brought that genuineness and humor to Chubs that we all know and love. Those four core actors were their characters. And you could feel that connection. You could feel the love between them. And that made all the difference. 

At the end of the day, whether or not The Darkest Minds gets its sequel movie in Never Fade, I feel appreciative to have gotten to see a big screen interpretation of one of my favorite YA books. It was everything I had wanted and more. The emotion. The political awareness. The chemistry. The romance. The gut-wrenching ending that was word-for-word from the book. It hurt. Just like it did in the book.

As a fan of the book, what more could you ask for?

The Darkest Minds is in theaters now.

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