Saturday, March 29, 2014


Divergent is based on the 2011 novel of the same name by Veronica Roth. This is yet another entry in the burgeoning field of post-apocalyptic teen fiction. This particular example is set in a devastated and isolated Chicago where society has been fundamentally rearranged into a strict class system. This is the driving idea behind the plot - that every person is forced to choose one of five factions based on personality: Abnegation are selfless and help people and run things; Amity are peaceful and do the farming; Candor are honest and do law-type things; Dauntless are brave and are the soldiers; Erudite are intelligent and are scientists.

Perhaps the book explains things better, but judging only from the movie, I had some trouble with the premise. Hunger Games has just as radical a societal shift with similar divisions of the populace, but it appears to be set father into the future, and the despotic rule of the Capital is enforced with military might. This makes sense. In Divergent, it is not at all clear why society was rearranged, who enforces it, or that it makes any logical sense in the first place. The entire first act of the movie focuses on the decision point for choosing a faction (which happens in the teens, because this is based on a teen book and it's really about maturing into society anyway) but then the main character is threatened with expulsion into the "factionless" if she does not perform well in training.

There are a number of related problems with this. What sense does it make to take people who chose a vocation with the intent of being productive members of society, then throw them away? The only information we are given on the factionless is shots of them huddled around barrel fires, dirty, miserable, and blank-eyed, along with the offhand statement that the Abnegation faction takes care of feeding them. This seems like the most bizarre welfare state ever, where a perfectly healthy person takes a job, then is kicked to the curb and forced to be a drain on the rest of society. The people discarded this way are not allowed to try again - the faction choice is one time only. Apparently the lesson here is that if you choose the wrong job as a teenager, or if your boss doesn't like you, then you have no choice but to live on the streets and subsist on the generosity of others for the rest of your life.

Then there is the question of the titular divergents, who don't fit neatly into any of the factions, and are apparently seen as a great danger. It is never clear why, however. It seems more logical to just have an actual ruling class made up of the divergents, who are allegedly more capable than the others. I really hope the book does a better job of explaining how this society operates, because the movie version just isn't sensible.

Aside from that, the actual plot has two parts - the tension between factions over who should be in charge, and the love story between the main character (Tris, played by Shailene Woodley) and her instructor (Four, played by Theo James). The second of these is pretty decent, with a hint of creepiness that is always involved in a relationship in which one person has authority over the other. The first of them, however, suffers from lack of explanation stemming from the aforementioned problems with the premise. The villain (Jeanine, played by Kate Winslet) is an ends-justify-the-means kind of villain, but it's not at all clear why she thinks the end is worthwhile or justified.

The acting performances themselves are fine. Woodley has the ability to carry a fairly difficult role, which is good, since the sequels are already planned. Winslet, of course, is an experienced actress who plays her role well. James is the male equivalent of the usual love interest - kind of important, but not essential.

In the end, this is a reasonably entertaining movie which is marred by unanswered questions about the plot and setting. Fans of the book should be aware that some characters were cut for space.

Performance: 3/5
Plot: 2/5
Production: 3/5
Overall: 2.5/5
Bechdel: Pass
Reverse-Bechdel: Pass
Mako Mori: Pass
What are these?

1. Lone Survivor
2. The Wind Rises
3. The Lego Movie
4. Lust For Love
5. Pompeii
6. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
7. I, Frankenstein
8. Monuments Men
9. Knights of Badassdom
10. Divergent
11. 300: Rise of an Empire
12. RoboCop
13. Winter's Tale
14. The Legend of Hercules
15. Need For Speed
16. 3 Days to Kill

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