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Divergent (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jun 9, 2020



Starring Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet, Miles Teller, Jai Courtney, Zoë Kravitz, Ansel Elgort, Ray Stevenson, Ashley Judd, Tony Goldwyn, Maggie Q, Christian Madsen, Casimere Jollette, Mekhi Phifer, Ben Lloyd-Hughes, Justine Wachsberger, Amy C. Newbold and Ben Lamb.

Screenplay by Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor.

Directed by Neil Burger.

Distributed by Summit Entertainment. 139 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Y.A. (Young Adult) novels have been fertile ground for films, with many stand-alone hits as well as such huge franchises as Harry Potter, Twilight and The Hunger Games.

Divergent is made with the express hope of being another one of these tent-pole series.  However, for every one of these which achieves lift-off, there are many others which become huge misfires – such as I Am Number Four, The Golden Compass and Cirque du Freak.

It is hard to say exactly what it is that makes some of these series take off.  In the long run, I suppose, it is just a question of how much you are attracted to the universe the film portrays.

And, to be completely honest, I can’t think of many more God-forsaken places than the world of Divergent.  I wouldn’t ever, even for a second, want to live there.  In fact, spending over two hours there in the theater was like doing hard time.

Divergent is yet another post-Apocalyptic world, where war has ravaged the main city (which looks like Chicago) which is now mostly a ruin.  The world has turned into an odd mishmash of primitiveness and technology, despite the fact that they still seem to have electricity and many modern conveniences – trains (though for some reason, they never seem to stop, you have to get on by hopping on like a hobo), guns, trucks, computers and mind-altering drugs.

Yet the human race seems to live like savages.

Okay.  Yeah.  Whatever.

The clever catch in the universe of Divergent is that all of the people in the film’s world are broken down into five castes which are defined by their personal attributes: Erudite (intellectuals), Dauntless (strong and brave), Abnegation (charitable and humble), Amity (peaceful) and Candor (honesty).

Each group plays a part in the vast tapestry of this world, keeping it a (supposed) utopia.

Of course, if sci-fi has taught us anything, it has shown us that there is no such thing as a perfect utopia.

Here the smart group tries to take over for the empathetic group, tricking the athletic one to be the muscle in their power play.  (The other two groups, particularly Amity, are pretty much forgotten in the film.) 

The one problem is that in a world where all the people are supposed to fall into five categories, what happens to the people who don't fit in?  What about people who fit into all?  (Even the film can't seem to decide, calling some people who can't necessarily fit in to any of them "uncategorizable," while others who have multiple types of traits are considered "divergent.")

Which brings us to Tris, well played by Shailene Woodley, who is best known for playing George Clooney's older daughter in The Descendents.  Now she seems to be turning into a professional Y.A. film star, with this film, the much better The Spectacular Now (based on the Y.A. novel by Tim Tharp) and the upcoming The Fault In Our Stars (from yet another terrific Y.A. best-seller by John Green).

Tris is born into a Abnegation family, in fact her dad is one of the leaders of the group.  On the sixteenth birthday, all children are given an aptitude test to suggest where they belong and then have to decide whether to stay with their family or join another group.  Tris never felt like she fit in with Abnegation, but isn't sure where she should be.  Even the mental test in inconclusive. 

However, unlike not being able to decide on your major, in the future it is life-threatening to have multiple facets.  Tris is warned by the tester not to tell anyone, not even her parents.  She can choose whichever group she wants, but she can never let on that she is divergent. 

She ends up joining Dauntless, which turns out to be sort of like a futuristic combination of The Lord of the Flies and Extreme Boot Camp.  Boys and girls live together, go to the bathroom together, and try to kill each other.  It's like hell on Earth, except for the dreamy trainer named Four (Theo James). 

There is lot of talk of revolution, lots of mind-altering drugs, lots of fighting and jumping and climbing, and a fierce criminal played by Kate Winslet, but in the end it all comes down to a pretty uninteresting star-crossed romance. 

Yawn.  Who would have ever thought that surviving the Apocalypse could be so dull?

Alex Diamond

Copyright ©2014 All rights reserved. Posted: March 21, 2014.

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