Author: Fernanda Torres
16 Feb 2022
Sacrifices for the Greater Good: Where do We Draw the Line?
In the movie trilogy of The Maze Runner, directed by Wes Ball, a question of individual good, the greater good, and morality is created when the government sacrifices hundreds of children to successfully find a cure for the zombie virus, the Flare, that has destroyed the world. The government agency assigned this task, the (not at all obviously named) World In Catastrophe: Killzone Experiment Department (WICKED) takes children who meet the standards of an above-average IQ as well as being immune to the Flare, and puts them through rigorous schooling and testing in order to find the cure. Throughout this experiment, many children die, and many more are harvested for their blood in order to extract cells for the development of the cure. To anyone, this would already sound horribly immoral, and not something realistic. However, by the end of the films, it is revealed that the main character, Thomas, has the complete genetic cure in his blood, the only person alive with this trait. But because of WICKED’s harsh tactics, his friends break all of the immune children out of government control before they are able to take some of Thomas’ blood to create and distribute the cure for the Flare virus. Now knowing that these characters could have saved the destroyed world and future generations of society, the viewers, who are not only fans of the books but also the common audiences the films aim to draw in, are left questioning who was in the right.
Through powerful use of pathos, ethos, and logos, the films support the claim that morality, and who is remembered as the good guys, is decided by the point of view in which a story is told. Primarily, this movie is for the readers of The Maze Runner book series, but it is marketed to a larger audience, since it is a movie released in theatres. The movie is a post-apocalyptic YA book adaptation, and it’s rated PG-13, so it is pretty family-friendly when compared to Marvel movies of the same rating. Knowing this, the rhetorical situation has to be able to persuade a very wide audience of teenagers (notoriously apathetic), parents, and younger children (although they might be too young to really understand, it has to be simple enough to hold their attention). The film builds pathos with the young faces of the children and the dialogue they share, ethos by building rapport with the main characters instead of the government, and logos by showing the devastation caused by the Flare virus that the runaway heroes have the cure for literally built into them. With these strategies, viewers celebrate when they escape and destroy the branch of the government holding the main characters captive, instead of disagreeing with them for taking the last hope for humanity with them.
The film is a story with children at its core, so pathos, the emotional appeal, is used heavily with the development of their characters, such as Chuck. He is a boy around 13 years old, and is the first to be kind to the main character, Thomas, and answers all of his questions when he is tossed headfirst into a new situation. His most important scene is one where he talks to Thomas about his parents. The lighting starts the buildup, with the scene being at night but the set lit up with soft golden light, setting it up for an emotional conversation. The audience then hears his story of being an orphan, not sure who his parents are, if they are alive, or if they are even looking for him after he was taken by WICKED. Thomas reassures him, his promise to find Chuck’s parents giving him hope. This is not just a vivid example but also a personal experience, as most people can empathize with the experience of comforting a child. It builds pathos with the audience, making them connect emotionally to the young boy and his story through the eyes of the main character, softening them to him as well.
They also build pathos with the side of WICKED by sharing the story of Teresa with the audience. Teresa, an older teenage girl originally part of the main characters, betrays them to WICKED, returning some of the runaways (including the one who was most important to Thomas) to them. Because of the previous conditioning, in this instance the audience sides with Thomas and his friends, despising Teresa. She then gets to tell her story, of being a little girl and seeing her mother infected by the Flare, leading her to go insane and tear her eyes out in front of her daughter because of the hallucinations. Teresa explains that they cannot just abandon WICKED, because millions of others just like her are out in the world with no hope, waiting on the government for a cure that never comes. With that pathos in the form of her vivid example, the film establishes that from the opposite point of view, Thomas and his friends are the villains to all of humanity, while WICKED are the heroes working hard to provide a cure and bring hope. This throws the whole series into a moral conundrum, the challenge of sacrificing hundreds of children for a guaranteed cure that will save all of humanity.
To further pull in the audience, the films also make use of ethos, the authoritative appeal, by showing how main characters have established a system of leadership where they have the oldest usually being the leaders, not only because of seniority but also because they have built trust with the others off-screen. The two most important are boys named Minho and Alby, and through them the readers are shown the effect of WICKED’s experimentation on the children. Although Alby is still under 18, he has to be the strong and reasonable one in a group of 65 teenage boys. This lends him credibility, since anyone would recognize this as difficult. Not only do they face the usual teenage boy struggles, they are also living in the only safe zone of a giant Maze filled with bloodthirsty monsters. This is where Minho comes in, the leader of a smaller group of boys who venture into the Maze. Minho still has the traits of a leader, but shows his age more than Alby. He is sarcastic and more emotional, and from the beginning shows a fierce loyalty to the main character without question. Minho is important because he convinces the other characters, and effectively the readers, of Thomas’ trustworthiness. He uses his authority of having been there the longest as well as braving the Maze every day for three years in his support of Thomas, cementing his previous unreliable status as trustworthy. Until then, even the audience is unsure of Thomas, as he holds no memories of himself or the other boys, and the faint ones that return eventually show him working with WICKED. With the trust of Minho, there is no reason for either the characters or audience to doubt Thomas. This then allows the development of Thomas as a sympathetic character, someone to view the horrors of the government through. There is mostly invented ethos there, as the film has to actually build up the leadership values of the boys so that viewers trust their points of view. WICKED, on the other hand, has an inherent ethos with the audience. They are the government, so they hold an authoritative ethos because of it. The viewers are used to governments having power, and most people believe that the government is meant for the good of everyone.
Logos, the reasonable appeal, is used to show the sense of urgency WICKED carries in looking for a cure. The Flare is described as infecting a majority of the current population, with less than 1% being immune. This creates two possible situations: create safe havens and protect the immunes, or sacrifice them for the good of the 99%. The government chooses the second option, and so that has to be rationalized with the audience. The statistic itself helps, when the scientists in the film used figures instead of people, it was to convince the audience that WICKED, despite the on-the-nose naming, is not morally wrong or right, but objectively working for the greater good. Where most of the support for Thomas and his friends is built with pathos, logos is mostly used in WICKED. An example that combines a bit of both, though, is when a little girl named Cheyenne is introduced. She is young and very small, suffering from the Flare. This is used to emotionally appeal to the audience, as well as a scene when the blood sapped from the main characters is used to make a temporary cure for her. Hower, the cure does not work permanently, and WICKED argues that they need to keep running experiments on the main characters to find the true cure for people like Cheyenne, because there are helpless children dying on both sides, so they rationalize that they are doing more good than harm because of the objective amount of people they are saving versus those they are sacrificing.
There is no exact way to measure whether the film was successful in making the audience question its morality, but by the reviews and popularity of the series it is possible to see that some have understood this purpose. Most people do instantly agree with Thomas and his friends, but those who think more deeply, like readers of the books, tend to have more conflicted views. As shown by a page of questions on the book’s official page on Goodreads, the audience is left confused on whether WICKED is good or not (Edyna). A common belief is that they were bad with good intentions, but everybody has their own opinions. In the films’ careful balance of pathos, ethos, and logos on both morals sides, the question of the audience’s own moral belief is effectively created with vivid examples and facts on both sides.