Week Late Movie Review: Divergent

Divergent isn't the kind of movie I would choose to go see, but there was no way I wasn't going to see it My wife has been infatuated with the books for years and was in an almost Daily Countdown excitement for the movie to come out. After seeing it, however, I will say it was one of the better adapted YA novel to hit the theaters, but when you consider the competitors in that category, Twilight, The Mortal Instruments, Vampire Academy, that isn't saying much.

The film, based on the book of the same name, tells the story of Tris, a girl living in a decrepit society, torn apart by...something. Some kind of great war. To ensure the disaster never happens again, citizen are divided into factions based on their personalities. Five factions in total; Abnegation (whose role is to help others and also act as the main governing body), Erudite (the extremely smart such as scientists and teachers), Candor (people who speak their mind and tell the truth, ironically portrayed as lawyers), Amity (farmers), and Dauntless (the fearless who act as the cities soldiers). People are placed in factions based on a test they are given but are free to choose their own faction if they feel the test results were wrong. However, the test is not always reliable, as in Tris' case. Some people can't be pegged so easily and are listed as "Divergent". The city fears these Divergents as they throw off the balance of society.

Tris was born into Abnegation but, unhappy with her life, chooses the life of Dauntless. Most of the movie focuses on her training and how she manages to bring herself up from skinny girl to fearless soldier. But the final test the Dauntless have to endure threatens to expose her as a Divergent, which would lead to her being captured and killed.

I was surprised that I enjoyed the movie as much as I did, expecting little more than necessary to entertain a tweenage girl, but that didn't stop me from finding the flaws within the film.

Caution: Spoilers ahead.

The movie also features Jai Courtney doing a spot-on
Macklemore impression
The crux of the movie is based on a plot of the Erudite to take control of the government from Abnegation. They imply that the leaders of Abnegation are committing crimes that threaten society. What those crimes are, however, is never mentioned. Are they embezzling funds? Waterboarding terrorists? Having illicit late-night affairs? In the end, though, it doesn't matter. My wife tells me that they go into much more detail in the books, but I guess the filmmakers would have had to cut too much of Tris' training montage to shoehorn a single line of dialogue helping audiences to understand what Abnegation has done that's so bad. (But I guess I can look at it the other way and say that Erudite's mission is so corrupt that they don't need a reason. But they do have reasons. So it should be explained.)

A few of my gripes don't even correspond to the movie but with the concepts Veronica Roth opens up in her book. The city is in complete disrepair, buildings crumbling, people living in makeshift housing, yet they only institute five factions, none of which would be useful to repair the city. There's also the Factionless, those who can't be placed or couldn't hack it in any of the other factions, who are treated as the dregs of society since they don't contribute. Wouldn't introducing a new faction, Journeymen or something, help to alleviate some of this? People that work with their hands, carpenters, masons, steelworkers, that can put the city back together? Cars exist in this world. They are drivable. So where do they get the fuel to drive them? I doubt the Erudite are digging for petroleum. Abnegation isn't converting it to gasoline. So where does it come from? Again, this might be something that Roth addresses in later books but for now, this just sticks out to me as being a massive oversight on the world leaders.

I'm not trying to put down the world Roth has built here. She's created a fairly believable dystopian future, one that was brought down by the hubris of man instead of some kind of machine uprising. In a world where the "I'm right and everyone else is wrong" mentality reigns, it's easy to see our society toppling under the weight of mankind's selfishness. And Roth has managed to devise an acceptable way to cure that. Not by limiting procreation and government-assigned roles, a la Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, but instead by making people believe they have a choice. It's the illusion of free will that keeps everyone in line, which is what makes Divergents such a danger.

One thing that is important to note is the example Tris sets for young girls. Not just through the efforts of Shailene Woodley, who pulled off the transformation of wimp to bad-ass pretty convincingly, but also with the way Tris handles herself. In one scene, she is over powered by a group of Dauntless who are in fear of failing out of the faction so they attack Tris to take her out of the running. She fights back, telling them that they have no right to touch her. In a later scene, we see one of Tris’ fears is being raped, taken advantage of by someone she cares about. It’s a great example because it shows that this fear is normal. But in the same breath it empowers girls to understand that they don’t have to be forced into something by someone they care about. It’s OK to fight back if a situation makes them uncomfortable. It’s a powerful message to send to a Young Adult audience, and unfortunately, a necessary one.

At the end of it, Divergent is a pretty good big-screen adaptation. It's got all the makings of a big budget popcorn flick to help revitalize the motion picture industry but doesn't get  mired down or rely too heavily on needless CGI. (Most of the movie seemed to be made using practical effects with the exception of one scene involving Tris ziplining through collapsing buildings.) If you're a fan of the books, you're likely to enjoy the film as well, and probably be willing to overlook the shortcomings. If you've never read the books, you'll enjoy the movie for what it is but probably have a few questions by the end. 

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