What’s that, Hollywood? Another motion picture adapted from a sci-fi/romance novel for teens? Ah yes, how promising. Tell me, is it gonna be nearly as much fun as The Host? This is unlikely seeing as The Host, spoiler alert for both films, at least didn’t feature a graphic rape scene. More on that later.
What we have here is Divergent, a film that I couldn’t figure out when I first saw trailers for it. All I could gather was that fans of The Hunger Games might like it; whatever it is. Trying to read a synopsis for the books, though, I still couldn’t make much sense of the premise.
So, Divergent is set in one of those futures where humanity has been split up into different parts of society. Based on what, you ask? Social status? Race? Gender? Nope, nein and nah. It’s personalities. Yeah. And the heroine is a plucky young woman, Tris (Shailene Woodley), who doesn’t fit into any of the designated “personality factions” and so that makes her special, i.e. “Divergent”. Yeah. This is revealed when the machine that determines what faction a teenager will fit best into the rest of their life (the Aptitude Test) declares that Tris is, in laymen’s terms, a little bit all over the place. Yeah.
Supposedly this is a metaphor for being forced to choose a definitive life path at a young age and a case for individualism or something, but who cares? Where are my hot males?!
To elaborate: there are 5 different factions in the futuristic Chicago in which the film’s set. These are Abnegation (for the selfless), Amity (for the kind), Candor (for the honest), Erudite (for the intelligent) and Dauntless (for the brave). Normally I’d say that this idea is probably more interesting on paper than it is on film, but I’m not sure I feel that way about it either. Since Tris doesn’t fit neatly into any of these categories, being the strong independent teen girl that more and more sci-fi protagonists are starting to be, she gets to pick one herself. She picks Dauntless, where she gets to be a badass vigilante, go to boot camp with a hunky man with tattoos played by Theo James (In case it wasn’t clear who this is marketed for) and soon begins to uncover the sinister plans of the one who created the Aptitude Test, Jeanine Matthews. She’s played by Kate Winslet so no complaints there.
Our supporting players are Tony Goldwyn and Ashley Judd as Tris’ parents, Zoë Kravitz as fellow Dauntless Christina, Jai Courtney as the obligatory jerky leader of the Dauntless, and Ray Stevenson as a council member of Abnegation and a character for Theo James to have daddy issues with. In the Divergent universe they’re called “abusive fathers”, I’ve been told. The directing is by Neil Burger, whose previous works include the clever delight that is The Illusionist. I’m not quite as delighted about having seen Divergent.
I know squat about the original novels by Veronica Roth and the movie did little – but still more than nothing – to arouse my interests in exploring them further one rainy day. There are stray concepts that I liked, such as some of the simulations the Dauntless have to go through to overcome their respective greatest fears. It’s here we learn that Tris’ fear is sexual assault and we’re eventually subjected to a surprisingly powerful, albeit simulated moment in which Theo James’ character, Four, (to recite what’s for some reason his actual name) won’t listen to Tris’ “no” when the two are about to have sex for the first time. Scenes outside the simulator show Four as much more accepting when Tris tells him that she doesn’t want their relationship to go too quickly. I can’t help but agree with articles that praise the film for giving a massive middle finger to rape culture, even if I’m still not terribly intrigued by the romance itself.
There are more scenes wherein Tris makes it clear that no one has the right to her body but her. If this message was in the books or not I’m not sure, but I’m assuming that it is. In that case, my hope is that people who prefer to read the likes of Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey, when there are books like this out there, receive the help they so desperately need post-haste.
As for Divergent as a film, I suppose I admired the boldness of moments like the aforementioned simulator scene as well as some performances, set designs and visuals; but it feels longer than it is, plays out predictably plot-wise and the post-apocalyptic dystopia portrayed here feels like it’s been portrayed somewhere else – several times. I predict auspicious careers for Shailene Woodley and Theo James, but overall, it’s obvious this film wasn’t made for me. If you fit into my personality faction, you’ll probably wanna skip out on “Hunger Games Jr.” here in favour of affording a ticket for the new Muppets movie.