Film | Nathaniel Rogers | Theo James

Weekend Movie Review: Are You 'Divergent'?

  Divergent-zombie
Shailene Woodley inches closer to Theo James in "Divergent". Wouldn't you?

BY NATHANIEL ROGERS 

Erudite. Dauntless. Abnegation. Amity. Candor. Doesn't have quite the same ring as "Charisma. Uniqueness. Nerve and Talent" does it? But it's with the awkwardly titled five factions of DIVERGENT's world that we begin. In some future Utopia young citizens must choose their faction (a fancy word for tribe) on their 18th birthday after taking an aptitude test that reveals where they truly belong. They have the option of any faction but most, we are led to believe, choose either the tribe they grew up in or the tribe of their aptitude and these are often the same. Nature vs. Nurture and all that, you know.

Our heroine Tris (Shailene Woodley) lives with her parents in Abnegation, the "selfless" tribe that runs the government -- your first clue that this is total science fiction! They also feed the homeless (aka the "factionless"), dress like monochromatic fashion-forward Amish and eschew mirrors. Beatrice is played by Shailene Woodley and her parents are Ashley Judd and Tony Goldwyn (Scandal) - our first clue that this is actually a Dystopia*; how long could any of them survive without mirrors?

MORE AFTER THE JUMP... (LITERALLY FOR TRIS, PICTURED BELOW)

Divergent-jump

The trouble begins when Tris takes her aptitude test which is essentially a series of drug-fueled hallucinations. Her results are inconclusive. She is "Divergent" (uh oh) scoring in Dauntless (the warrior faction), Candor (the honest tribe who we spend no time with. In the sequels perhaps?) and her original tribe Abnegation. The test is administered by Plot Convenient Expositionist (not her real name) played by Maggie Q. She's Dauntless's tattoo artist but also works in this government capacity for reasons of because. She's everywhere! She warns Beatrice that she must tell no one of the test results for her own safety. Divergents are being hunted because they threaten the status quo.

Divergent-test

I'd like to say "then all hell breaks loose" but because this is the first in a trilogy (or quadrilogy if it's successful?) these stories are always padded. I'm still trying to work out why we spend any time with Beatrice's brother, for example, who seems to have no bearing whatsoever on the plot that isn't amply covered in other ways. Beatrice makes her Faction Choice, an event which is played for as much suspense as it can muster, an impressive amount actually, considering all the foreshadowing about where her heart truly lies. It lacks the gut punch of The Reaping, the similar kick-off plot point in Hunger Games, that beloved YA franchise to which Divergent, must do battle in the public imagination. But I vastly preferred it to the similar much stupider "Sorting Hat" sequence in Harry Potter where all the bad guys go to Slytherin and all the heroes go to Gryffindor and all the extras go to the other places.

Divergent, unlike that earlier phenomenon, understands that nobody is just one thing. That's the whole point of it really. Aren't we all divergent? The best hope for Divergent as a franchise is that it continues to play up these shades of gray and the multi-faceted aspects of human nature. Though we only spend time with three factions (Dauntless, Erudite, and Abnegation) each are revealed to have both good and bad people among them and, more impressively, characters that might tilt back and forth with the wind. But, since Hollywood's anti-intellectualism never rests, you already know that Erudite (the "intelligent" faction) is where we will find our master villain. She's embodied by Kate Winslet, giving icy blond bureaucrat realness. We are cued to distrust her from her first appearance. Winslet is fine if nothing more in basically the same role that Jodie Foster butchered in Elysium.

Divergent-villain

The bulk of the movie's two hours and twenty minutes is Tris's training in her faction. This training also involves drug-fueled hallucinations wherein she must face her greatest fear, which appears to be birds so she's been watching too much Hitchcock. All these virtual scenes, wherein the heroine vocalizes "this is not real", lend the movie a curious weightlessness -- if it's not real for her can it ever be real for us?. But here, too, a dichotomy. Despite that weightlessness and the disadvantage of a far less instantly primal and bloody premise, Divergent actually does a better job than The Hunger Games of making its deaths (and potential deaths) real both for the audience and for the heroine. It's far more believable in this one way than Katniss's eternal innocence in her gladiator games.

Despite strong moments sprinkled about, we're killing time. We wait for our heroine to break her silence and make a move and, thus, a movie. Divergent "The Pilot" finds its spiritual twin in its own "sex" scene. Beatrice finally admits her feelings for her mysteriously named trainer "Four" after he removes his shirt -- Theo James' body will do that to you. Four shows her his tattoo of the five factions so he's doing a very bad job of hiding his own Divergency since this tribe has communal bathrooms and bedrooms. Beatrice and Four begin passionately kissing, but just as things are heating up, she puts on the breaks.

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"I don't want to move too fast," she whispers softly but firmly. You can practically hear the screenwriter, director and executive producers mouthing it along with her. There's more money to be made if your franchise moves at a snail's pace. 'Hey, let's split the final book in half!'

 

* All Utopias in science fiction are actually Dystopias in disguise. And Dystopias are also actually Dystopias so basically there's no hope for the human race. Cheers!

 

Nathaniel Rogers would live in the movie theater but for the poor internet reception. He blogs daily at the Film Experience. Follow him on Twitter @nathanielr.

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Comments

  1. I enjoyed the books. I thought they were quite well written and addressed some pretty interesting concepts.

    I believe the brother has a bigger role in the second book, if not, the third.

    Posted by: B. Wilson | Mar 22, 2014 5:30:29 PM


  2. That wasn't so much a review of the film as it was a summary. Thanks. Now there is no reason for me to see it.

    Posted by: peterparker | Mar 22, 2014 5:47:17 PM


  3. Magikul Mary Sue and The Absurdly Impossible, Gay Co-opting Allegory. Watch as a young white girl faces contrived discrimination and insane plots, yet still manages to unbelievably overcome everything because she is the only one that matters. Well, her and her boyfriend. Because, twu wuv!

    Where's the spoon? I feel like choking on something that doesn't taste like it came from a cow's anus.

    Posted by: Robert | Mar 22, 2014 6:12:43 PM


  4. Theo James is attractive enough, but forgive me for doubting that he will express much divergence from cliche at all.

    That said, your write up hooks me despite myself ;--) I so want to track down my litte sister and watch this with her. Heck, we're even chic mennos, or something :-)

    Posted by: Just_a_guy | Mar 22, 2014 6:25:16 PM


  5. You, sir, have never truly read Harry Potter if you think the sorting hat thinks anyone is just one thing.

    In fact, the Sorting Hat tells Harry he has the aptitude for almost any House in Hogwarts, and only selects Harry for Gryffyndor because that's where he *asked* to be.

    In this vein, it's very much similar to "Divergent" -- for good or ill.

    That's not to say JK Rowling didn't mostly make all the 'good guys' from Gryffindor and all the 'bad guys' from Slytherin, but there were notable exceptions.

    Cedric Diggory was not an extra -- and, for good or bad, gave us one half of the raison d'etre of Twihards (Edward of Edward vs Jacob).

    Ditto Peter Pettigrew, who was a Gryffindor and yet the reason why Harry's parents died, and Snape, who was always viewed as evil by Harry until Harry realized he was very much reformed and quite heroic for the majority of his life.

    Mostly, though, we have to realize it was a) a children's series until the very end, when JK Rowling wrote for a slightly older age group because her fans had grown up, and b) it was told through Harry's perspective.

    Not getting more complicated with the characters, Houses and how they fit in the world is part of it being a kid's book, and Harry seeing things as Gryffindor = Good and Slytherine = bad, all the way until the end, when both Harry was more nuanced and understanding, and so were JK Rowling's fans. Which is why we get a much more complex view in the last few books.

    So I know the sorting hat may seem underdeveloped because the Houses are underdeveloped, but it isn't and they aren't. You just aren't going to see the shades of gray in the 30 seconds Harry puts on the hat in Book 1.

    Posted by: Ryan | Mar 22, 2014 7:09:39 PM


  6. Why, no, I wouldn't inch up on Theo James. I would throw myself at Tony Goldwyn, however.

    Posted by: Jerry | Mar 22, 2014 7:56:45 PM


  7. Theo has sprung into my top 10 most beautiful guys on the planet. Out of respect, I won't mention the name of the guy who got bumped off the list.

    Posted by: sparks | Mar 22, 2014 8:02:58 PM


  8. Theo James! Reason enough to see this movie.

    Posted by: dumbnhung | Mar 22, 2014 8:44:47 PM


  9. Read the book, was okay.. saw the movie, it was okay... But Jai Courtney was worth the price of admission to the movie. Hot hot man.

    Posted by: 604brian | Mar 22, 2014 9:35:48 PM


  10. This had the same problem that so much of future dystopia fiction has: If such high technology exists, why does life suck? Free energy, computational power, biological and chemical mastery...why is anybody living in squalor.

    The Purge had similar "society can't survive the premise" issues: If cities are destroyed every year with massive deaths among the working class, there is no way it could survive.

    Ignoring that, it's a passable movie, though Woodley isn't up to the part. She doesn't have the physical presence to be believable as a martial artist.

    Posted by: Rrhain | Mar 22, 2014 11:07:33 PM


  11. Rrhain,

    Look at the high technology we have and the needless poverty and suffering we have in the U.S. Those in power don't care. Our country blew 5 trillion dollars on the Iraq War. That's money that could have gone to education, health care, and other areas to improve the lives of Americans. Instead, it was wasted for a war that had no benefit to the U.S.

    Posted by: Marshall | Mar 23, 2014 8:00:16 AM


  12. The movie would benefit greatly if Maggie Smith had been included in the cast.

    Posted by: kodiak | Mar 23, 2014 8:13:51 AM


  13. I enjoyed this review right up to the point where "she puts on the breaks." Literacy is not too much to ask from a clearly intelligent reviewer!

    Posted by: Larry McD | Mar 23, 2014 11:19:37 AM


  14. Uh, she got an aptitude for Dauntless, Abnegation and ERUDITE.

    Posted by: Kay | Mar 23, 2014 2:42:43 PM


  15. "...she puts on the breaks."

    No. She puts on the brakes.

    How can anyone who considers themselves a writer......?

    Posted by: emjayay | Mar 23, 2014 3:17:53 PM


  16. James Madison warned us about factions.

    Posted by: emjayay | Mar 23, 2014 3:18:16 PM


  17. @Marshall: Yes, there is poverty. There will always be poor, but our society is nowhere near as squalid as portrayed in this story...and they only had Chicago to deal with. If they have enough power and manufacturing capability to create high definition monitors (where are they getting the materials?) why is the city in such decay? Especially after 100 years? Look how far we've come in our technological progress compared to 1914.

    Again, I'm happy suspending my disbelief in service to the story, but so many of these stories have this problem. 1984 explained how it is that a society with the ability to create telescreens could still be like London after the blitz. But here, the affluence level kept varying due to convenience: If they needed high standards, such as the Erudite offices, then that's what you got...but the Ferris wheel is still rusting because we need abandoned warehouses in order to have the capture-the-flag game...but our guns have infinite ammo and don't actually need a clip...but food is distributed manually as if it were being given out by UNICEF.

    The climax portrayed it perfectly: Two rooms, right next to each other. One, pristine white, bright lights, computers everywhere...right next to it a concrete nothing, no lights, seemingly abandoned.

    The lack of consistency is a problem.

    Posted by: Rrhain | Mar 24, 2014 12:10:14 AM


  18. Why would a grown man read or watch this stuff? It's written by some anti-intellectual evangelical Christian dimwit, the gender roles are the OPPOSITE of the ones in the Hunger Games, of which is it s third-rate knock-off crossed with Twilight (psychologically abusive brooding BF ignores winsome, goo-goo eyed heroine), the movie is just bloodless shootouts. They win the war by literally jumping into a giant plot hole at the end.

    The corporation who manufacture this slick, polished, demographically polished nonsense to kids are more sinister than the half-baked dystopias depicted in the stories.

    It's RUBBISH.

    Posted by: Chaz | Mar 24, 2014 5:12:25 PM


  19. Plus another smart, power-dressed, highly educated Hillary-alike in a blue suit as the evil one.

    Just like that POS Elysium.

    Posted by: Chaz | Mar 24, 2014 5:14:23 PM


  20. Plus another smart, power-dressed, highly educated Hillary-alike in a blue suit as the evil one.

    Just like that POS Elysium.

    Posted by: Chaz | Mar 24, 2014 5:14:33 PM


  21. Plus another smart, power-dressed, highly educated Hillary-alike in a blue suit as the evil one.

    Just like that POS Elysium.

    Posted by: Chaz | Mar 24, 2014 5:14:43 PM


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