Why ‘The Darkest Minds’ is So Relevant in a Post-Parkland World

Kim Taylor-Foster
Movies Sci-Fi
Movies Sci-Fi Stranger Things

The Darkest Minds is the latest Young Adult novel to make it to the big screen. Set in the near future, it tells the story of teenagers mysteriously developing powers. Feared by the government, they’re locked away in detainment camps. But when a group escapes, they join together, combining their powers to fight their captors.

FANDOM recently chatted with producer Shawn Levy, who explained that there’s no better time for this movie than now.

The Darkest Minds has turned out to be topical and timely in ways we never in our wildest imaginations could have foreseen,” he said. “It is about this uprising of sorts, sometimes for the better, sometimes with misguided aims. It’s about young people. My elevator pitch on this movie has always been: ‘It’s about young people with powers who discover their power’. And so while the marketing might be about the powers, the movie and its message is actually about power. It’s something I hope we will see reflected in the world.”

Young People Rising Up

It’s all interesting stuff, in a world that seems almost frightened of the next generation – a tech-savvy lot that adults don’t fully understand, growing up in an entirely different landscape to the one the last came of age in. The current political and social climate is one that is alien to – and alienates – many young people, and of late we’ve seen the youth speaking out. Something that Levy champions. He cites the horrific Parkland shooting as an example of one such youth movement.

“We saw the beginning of something post-Florida shooting where you had young people coming together finding a redemptive connective power in each other. [They] said, ‘We’re f–ing sick of the world we’ve inherited, we are questioning the way things are, we are determined to reshape our world the way we want it to be’. And I pray to God that the force of that movement can be sustaining, impactful and actually effective.”

Real-World Themes

stranger things season 2
Stranger Things explores real-world themes against a heightened reality backdrop.

Levy’s career has been dotted with projects that tell the stories of young people. From Real Steel and Stranger Things to his involvement in the upcoming YA novel adaptation Steelheart and sunken-city fantasy adventure Atlantis 7, Levy is attracted to stories that document the experience of young people. Even – or rather especially – when they’re in a fantastical setting. But more than that, he’s interested in humanist themes.

“I definitely have a thing for youth, I have a thing for the experience and aspiration of young people,” explained Levy. “That’s always been there but I also have always liked dealing with real-world humanist themes in a piece of entertainment that is heightened reality.

“So whether it’s a museum coming to life [Night at the Museum] or boxing robots [Real Steel]; a Demogorgon [Stranger Things] or aliens coming down in a giant, concrete, egg-shaped spaceship [Arrival]; a married couple getting involved with crazy gangsters and criminals in one wild night [Date Night]; or young people with special abilities [The Darkest Minds], I like stories that deal with real-world themes in heightened reality settings and circumstances. And this book [The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken] had that. It had themes, it felt resonant for us in the real world within a plot that was set in a world that was heightened, and just slightly near future.”

Subtlety vs Resonance

Key art image from The Darkest Minds
Amandla Stenberg leads the young cast of The Darkest Minds.

The story sees the young characters divided into colours according to the powers they acquire. The most feared are the oranges, who have mind control abilities. Perhaps not a very subtle metaphor, but Levy thinks that doesn’t matter.

“I don’t mind the absence of subtlety because what it may lack in subtlety it has in resonance,” he said. “It’s exploring ideas of difference, of categorization, of the fear of the different and the unknown. But ultimately what I love most about the book and the movie is that it’s fundamentally optimistic and humanist. And it resists cynicism, which has been one of the cardinal rules of every single thing I’ve made.”

The Darkest Minds hits screens in the US on August 3, the UK on August 10 and Australia on August 16.

Kim Taylor-Foster
Kim Taylor-Foster is Entertainment Editor for Fandom in the UK. She was raised on an unsteady diet of video nasties and violent action flicks.