Movie Review: ‘Divergent’
“Divergent,” a film based on author Veronica Roth’s young adult series of the same name, attempts to carve its place among other blockbuster teen movies like “The Hunger Games” and “Harry Potter.” Unfortunately, the ways in which the film diverges from the movie standard for portraying young adult fiction are by far its greatest faults, followed closely by its fidelity to the book. Unlike “The Hunger Games” and “Harry Potter,” the “Divergent” film series fails to mature and to correct the ideological fallacies of its source. I wholeheartedly expected the movie’s director, Neil Burger, and screenwriters to write over some of Roth’s two-dimensional characters and motiveless plot threads, but instead they play low, toward the common denominator of audience. You could say they do the best with what they have, but for a film about individual identity, “Divergent” feels extremely mainstream.
Based on the idea that total conformity will eventually lead to the best kind of divergence within the population—smart, kind, brave, honest and selfless rebels—“Divergent” creates its own dystopian fantasy in a futuristic Chicago. The interplay with the city, including lovely shots of a totally dark skyline, a creepy marshland that surrounds downtown and extras climbing over every spare piece of the L, was very fun to watch. As a Chicagoan, I appreciated the film’s reverence for a very American-style ruin, as if the city were comparable to Rome. The special effects and electronic soundtrack that take the audience up and over the landscape, including a pretty cool zip-line ride at night, are a testament to what the film does best: really cool mini music videos for Ellie Goulding.
The rest of the film, being ever true to the book, follows Tris, played by Shailene Woodley, as she bucks against the system that created her. In Tris’ world, teens must choose to belong to a faction that will eventually supersede their families: the brave Dauntless, intelligent Erudite, selfless Abnegation, kind Amity and honest Candor. Woodley does a lovely job as Tris, managing to play up her faults as a naive and somewhat abrasive teenage girl against the Christ-like personality Roth hammers into her throughout the series’ three-book run. Kate Winslet as the evil Jeanine and Theo James as the love interest, brilliantly named Four, act as much-needed eye candy beside Woodley and offer some acting to get excited about. It is between these three characters that audiences will find “Divergent”’s unexpectedly humorous moments and its necessarily poignant ones—look out for Tris and Four’s knife-wielding skills against Jeanine’s razor-sharp wit.
Rather, razor-sharp as Roth and her hundreds of thousands of preteen fans will see it. As the logic and the fantasy that “Divergent” asks viewers to buy into fell flat for me, I imagine it will for most people over the age of 15. Anyone who understands that simply wanting absolute power isn’t enough motivation to destroy an entire society will leave the theater dazed and confused. Aside from the plethora of psychopaths in “Divergent,” its attack on what I can only call blind intellectuals was also jarring. Everyone—except for Tris and Four, of course—seems kind of stupid. A lack of intellectual thrust in a film is fine—“the Hunger Games” and “Harry Potter” series don’t attempt to root for good old-fashioned learning, as Katniss never really goes to school and Harry drops out his senior year at Hogwarts—but when a major category of the population in “Divergent” identifies as Erudite, I expect the razor-sharp wit to actually be razor-sharp. But for those who are able to suspend their disbelief (and education), “Divergent” will prove to be fun to watch.