Other Media Review

Film Review:  Divergent

C+

Title: Divergent
Written By: Evan Daugherty, Vanessa Taylor (screenplay); Veronica Roth
Publication Info: Summit Entertainment 2014
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy

Divergent My teenaged self and I went to see Divergent.  Teenage self is really stressed about having to choose a college and a major.  Middle-aged self thinks simplistic world building is simplistic.  They both had a pretty good time, even though middle-aged self thought the movie didn’t make any sense.  Teenage self thought the movie was fine and that middle age self should lighten up.

Divergent is based on a YA novel that I read a long time ago and have mostly forgotten.  As I recall, I neither loved nor hated the book, so I don’t feel terribly biased regarding the movie.  In Divergent, a war happened that killed almost everybody.  The city of Chicago is surrounded by a wall and inhabited by people who divide themselves into factions.  You choose your faction when you are a teen based on a test that tells you which faction you should be in, and based on your own choice.  You can choose against the test, but you can’t change your mind.

You choose your faction based on your dominant personality trait.  Amity is the kind faction.  For reasons that aren’t clear to me, Amity is the faction in charge of food production.  Clearly, the writer who came up with this has never ripped the head off a chicken.  Abnegation is the selfless faction – they help anyone in need and run the government. 

“But wait!”  I hear you say.  “Doesn’t that suggest that they are also kind?  And hopefully intelligent and honest?”  Shut up!  Everyone is one thing and one thing only!  Siddown and watch the movie! 

The honest people are in Candor and they are in charge of law.  Erudite people are smart and therefore according to this movie they are evil power-hungry backstabbers.  This makes me so angry I twitch all over and froth a little.  It’s not pretty.  Dauntless are fearless warriors.  They risk their lives to protect others but that doesn’t mean they are selfless!  They are brave!  That’s their thing!  Stop bringing basic human stuff into this!

When Abnegation member Beatrice (Tris) takes her test, the results are inconclusive and she’s told by a new friend (Maggie Q!) to lie about the results.  Tris is Divergent, which means she can’t be categorized or controlled.  In terms of the movie, Tris is a lucid dreamer.  Lucid dreaming and general specialness – that’s her superpower.  I love you Tris, but in real life if your evil arch-nemesis is played by Kate Winslet (who is great, of course, need I even mention it?) you are underpowered.  My money’s on Kate Winslet.

Shailene Woodley, who plays Tris, is great in the role.  She delivers the kind of performance that says, “I am hell-bent on dragging you into this story and making you care about it whether it’s ridiculous or not.”  There’s a part where she has something of a nervous breakdown that had me in tears.  Her performance is so grounded that it transcends the actual script.    The cinematography is good, including some dream imagery and use of mirrors that is beautiful and terrifying.  The film excels at showing the pure joy of doing something dangerous and getting away with it – some of the Dauntless initiation scenes are brimming with both terror and glee.  The problems with the movie are awkward pacing, some stuff that clearly is missing important context, and bucket-loads of illogic.  I just cannot count the sheer number of things in the movie that don’t make any sense.  Seriously  – the Internet is too small.

But hey, let’s talk romance.  First of all, there is no love triangle!  I repeat:  this story is blessedly love triangle free!  I like a good love triangle as much as the next person but they are so over-used, especially in YA, that not having a love triangle is the most refreshing thing possible. 

My teenage self and I agree that the romance is dreamy but middle-aged self thinks it’s also kind of creepy, while teenage self thinks it’s just swoony in every way.  Teenage self is really insecure and just wants to be noticed and loved; also she has this thing where she thinks you have to prove your worth by suffering.  Poor, stupid teenage self.  It gets better, teenage self.  The therapy will kick in soon and you’ll be fine.  Anyway, teenage self thought it was very romantic that Four, Tris’s trainer/coach/drill sergeant, tenderly washes the blood off Tris’s knuckles after a fight and tells her that she’s really special.  Plus teenage self thought Tris totally proved herself as worthy by getting beat up in training sessions over and over again.  No wonder Four thinks she’s neat!  She’s so stoic and brave and full of endurance!  Clearly, she’s special, even though all this time she’s thought she was ordinary!  And Four is an excellent brooder – I mean, he exhibits the kind of high quality brooding you just don’t see every day. 

Middle-aged self thought that if we are going with a metaphor in which choosing a faction is like choosing your future career/college/major, then Four is like Tris’s college professor, and that’s just gross.  Plus, middle-aged self thought Four was a terrible, terrible teacher.  Seriously, you are trying to train a group of people to be ready to fight potentially larger, stronger opponents, and the technique you use is predominately punching?  I’m no martial arts expert, but I’m pretty sure that Tris could use some other kinds of moves.  At one point Four tells Tris to try to punch a guy in the throat, but that’s the only advice she gets.  This made me actually enraged. 

Obligatory sarcasm aside, I cared about Tris.  The actress pulled me right into the character and I wanted her to be OK, so it infuriates me that she isn’t given any useful moves.  Getting punched in the head is not an effective combat strategy.  Why can’t they teach her something effective?  Her suffering proves that this whole training system is stupid and it pisses me off.

But there were a few scenes that both teenage self and middle-aged self thought constituted some damn fine romance.  One is when Four shares his hopes  – he wants to be more than just one thing.  He wants to be selfless and truthful and brave and smart and kind.  “Still working on kind” he says, kindly.  Another is when Four shares his dreams – his literal dreams, during a mind-melding type experience.  Both teenage self and middle-age self liked it the fact that Four respects Tris’ limits with regard to both their relationship in general and sex in particular – no arguing, no whining, no pushing.  Finally, there’s a very sweet moment when both Four and Tris have been through a shit-load of trauma and they have to jump onto a moving train.  Four jumps onto the train first and reaches out to help Tris.  “I got this”, she says.  “I know you do”, he says, and scoops her up into a hug.  It’s very tender and sweet, not patronizing.

The movie isn’t a complete romance because it’s the first part of a trilogy.  It ends on this really weird note.  It’s not even a cliffhanger – it’s more like they literally ran out of film and had to stop.  As the beginning of a romance, and judged only on it’s merits as stage one in a romance as opposed to its merits as a science fiction movie or action movie or drama or anything else, I thought it was great, other than it creeping me out that Four is Tris’s instructor.  Through the course of the movie they grow to know each other’s secrets and trust each other.  They both get that there are bigger issues in the world than whether or not they date, but they are also good partners.

This movie excels at conveying the anxiety of the time in life when you don’t know who you are and yet you face incredible pressure to decide not only who you are but also who you’ll be, and what you’ll be doing, for the rest of your life.  The strongest parts of the film are the parts that directly address that, because the tension is so strong even though the whole set up is so contrived.  Teenage self practically had to breathe into a paper bag, it was so intense for her.

I was convinced to see this movie because of an interview in which Shailene Woodley was asked whether Tris could beat up Katniss Everdeen (my response – absolutely not, sorry).  Shailene Woodley is classier than me and has a better bullshit detector, so here’s what she said: 

“If my character and Katniss battled it out?  I don’t know.  I don’t think they would actually battle.  I feel like it would be like, “You’re a strong lady?  I’m a strong lady, too.  Let’s combine forces and bring it together”.  (Via Hollywood Reporter).

You know what Shailene?  You can have all my money.  Although I might skip the next two Divergent movies and mail you a check directly.   There’s only so much illogic I can take.


Divergent is in theatres now, and you can check for local showings at Moviefone and Fandango.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Dora says:

    The lazy world building is an issue I had with the book as well. (Have not seen the movie, and it’s relegated to “whenever I can stream it legally” status.) It felt really hasty and poorly thought out, but at least in the book you could get into people’s heads a little to the point where the things you point out, like people embodying more than their faction’s single characteristic, is I think supposed to be the whole point of the narrative. The government wants everyone to think it’s “round peg goes in round hole, square peg etc” and not start thinking for themselves, or beyond what they’ve been told. It’s a shame that seems to have been abandoned in favour of the romantic plot, because from what I can remember from reading it a year or so ago, the actual “shit’s goin’ down” stuff was balanced a lot better. Similarly, I’m pretty sure in the book Tris receives a lot more training in a lot more detail, so it’s too bad they had to quarter-ass that so badly in the movie, because it makes her sound a lot less competent than she actually is.

    I dunno, man. I had the same issues with the romance you did, but my inner teenage self did wake up with a little flutter at the first kiss scene, because the narrative is REALLY good at communicating emotion and insecurity and passion and all the stuff that makes up a good crush in a way Twilight could only ever dream of. I did believe, in the book, that Tris and Four cared a LOT about one another, and I’m a hard sell when it comes to that sort of thing. (Though I could have done without the token angsty hero backstory.) At the same time, however, it felt like all of the villains (and I mean this in the broadest sense, from the Big Bad to the people who pick on Tris) were mostly just underdeveloped straw men who existed only to be slapped down, which is boring and a shame considering Tris’ character development. I think Divergent’s two focuses, the romance and the government stuff, don’t really mesh well together in the book, but they both have things going for them even if they sort of weaken one another by proximity, if that makes any sense. Of course, I only bothered to read the first two books, so take that as you will.

  2. 2
    Amanda says:

    This was kind of how I felt about the book. It was okay, but not enough to keep me going with the series. I also wasn’t a fan of all the first love kissing interludes.

  3. 3
    redheadedgirl says:

    I haven’t seen the movie yet- I read the first book and yeah, it does kind of end on “welp, this is the prescribed number of pages for a YA book” kind of note.  I jsut finished the second one last night, more out of obligation than anything else.  I will not pay full price for the third one. 

    I do plan to see the movie, though, if nothing else to support female-led movies and hope they see that hey, wait…. these movies actually make money!

  4. 4
    Ova says:

    Veronica Roth, the author of these books, is pretty young. Only twenty-five. Given the life cycle of a book, I can imagine she wasn’t much older than Tris when she started writing these. I expect she’ll get a lot better at the world building with age and experience.

  5. 5
    Betty Fokker says:

    Then again … tests/studies have shown that teens & young adults think with the brain’s emotional centers, tend to be self-centered (not selfish, just way into their own stuff), and over-simplify the world. Maybe the author was deliberately skipping nuance to get a message across to a specific target audience? Considering her age, it’s probably more that SHE still thinks in this way. Brains don’t “mature” until between 25-30, assuming that they ever do :)

  6. 6
    Pheebers says:

    I guess I’m in the minority, but I loved the movie a surprising lot. I wasn’t expecting to like it much, but I thought it was well done, and the romance did make me squee…me even, not just my teenaged self from 30 (ulp!) years ago.  I saw the movie Saturday night, and spent Sunday morning rereading the book cover-to-cover.

    I love that she said she wanted to take things slow and he was totally fine with it. I love that he didn’t hesitate to let her into his fear landscape. I love that the eye-stabbing scene was left out of the movie.

    What I’m not sure about?  Whether I’ll see the third film, if it’s ever made. I haven’t read the third book, because the reviews are scathing, with people saying they wish they could unread it.

  7. 7
    Helen R-S says:

    I definitely wouldn’t recommend paying full price for Allegiant (book 3). I’m one of the people who was _really_ disappointed with the whole book, really, and the ending in particular. I very nearly threw the book across the room (and only didn’t because I can’t bring myself to injure a book, no matter how crappy it is!). I can’t be much more specific without going into spoiler territory, but if you do want more info on why I disliked it, feel free to ask :-)

  8. 8
    bethy1017 says:

    I also really liked the movie. I really liked the books as well—and though I had issues with the third one, I still liked it.

    The only reason I found Four and Tris’s romance in the movie to be creepy at all (and I really didn’t) is because he just clearly looks a lot older than her. I’m sure in the books he’s only a few years older, but the actor is a man, not a teenage boy, and it shows. That said, it left me free to drool over him without feeling icky about it.

    I loved Shailene in the role—I think she did a great job making me emotionally invest in her. I thought the world looked really cool, and I thought the supporting actors did a great job too.

    Though the pacing is a little uneven—hope they’re making Insurgent!

  9. 9
    Dancing_Angel says:

    I’m no martial arts expert, but I’m pretty sure that Tris could use some other kinds of moves.  At one point Four tells Tris to try to punch a guy in the throat, but that’s the only advice she gets.  This made me actually enraged.

    You’re quite right.  I studied the martial art of aikido for over nine years, and, while punching is great, it’s by far the only tactic anyone, especially a woman, should have in her arsenal. 

    I’m a very strong woman – for my size – but I’m only just over five feet tall, and no matter how many weights I lift or how hard I train, I will never be a “big and strong” fighter.  My reach is just not long enough. What I *can* do is learn how to evade, deflect, move out of the way, or attack elsewhere, so that I can use the strengths I have.

    If attacked, I personally recommend deflecting, kneecapping, and then a nice chop to the area between upper shoulder and the back of the neck.  If you do it right, you can get them on the chin with your knee on their way down – and then RUN. Get OUT of there.

    Or just skip all the fighting, and get out of there to begin with.  Hmmm, no wonder I can’t seem to get past 16 on my novel. :)  Not nearly exciting enough.

  10. 10
    CarrieS says:

    Tris fights in 2 kinds of situations.  One is “The Ring” and I think the problem with the ring is the rules aren’t defined.  Eric, one of the “teachers”, basically sets it up as Thunderdome – you leave the ring if you give up or are unconscious, and either scenario has serious consequences.  So running isn’t an option, although she dodges a lot.  I’m guessing the choreographer felt some constraint in terms of character.  If I had to fight a guy, and I couldn’t use a weapon or run away, I would fight dirty.  I would try to poke out eyes and bite and all that gross stuff that can cause serious, ugly damage.  And I guess we might not think of Tris as a hero if she’s biting off her classmates’ ears.  (If I had any akido style moves of course I’d use those too, and I hear using elbows is a good idea).

    When Tris is in actual, for reals combat, she usually has a weapon, and I did see her thor her elbow into a guys face at one point.  But it looked like an awful lot of boxing type maneuvers.  DH is seeing it tonight and I’m looking forward to what he thinks of the fight scenes since he likes martial arts.

  11. 11
    Dancing_Angel says:

    Ah.  Well, if I *were* in a “ring,” I would continue to deflect, and go for the joints – either taking out a knee or elbow and then try to knock the person out.  In aikido, the goal is always to get out of the way and not focus on the point of attack.

    So, if someone is kicking you, for instance, turn sideways, let the kick go past you and slam them in the knee – or keep moving and go for the face.  You *never* stand there and let the other person hit you.  I get hysterical with laughter when I see original Star Trek or Dr. Who episodes, because the fight scenes are so campy. 

    (Note that until you start getting up to brown belt level, you don’t do “unstructured” attack in aikido at all, so this is kind of extrapolating.  But fun.  Maybe the movie people should hire me as a consultant. ;))

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