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