Monday, August 4, 2014


Spoilers Ahead

After an apocalyptic war, the world is divided into factions: Dauntless, Abnegation, Erudite, Amity, Candor, Factionless and Divergence. There is a wall separating the group of factions for what lays outside.

Dauntless is the faction who work to protect society. They value bravery above all and demand that their members face their fears and push their way through them. Abnegation is dedicated to selflessness and devoting oneself to others. Abnegation is in charge of the government because they are peaceful, neutral and calm. Erudite is dedicated to knowledge, intelligence, curiosity and astuteness.  They are the librarians, doctors and teachers and are responsible for all record keeping. Amity is dedicated to peacefulness, kindness, forgiveness, trust, self-sufficiency, and neutrality. Amity value peace of all and are not adverse to twisting the truth to maintain it.  They function as providers in this world and grow all of the food. Candor value honesty, and their symbol is a set of unbalanced scales bound by a circle. Candor members value honesty and forthrightness above all and function as the makers and maintainers of law in this society precisely because they are honest to a fault. The Factionless are those who are not wanted by any faction and they live on the outskirts of society because of it, often scrounging refuse for anything useable. Finally, the Divergent are people who fit into two or more categories on their aptitude test.  They are largely made up of people from Abnegation and the Factionless.  They are feared precisely because they don't fit into a box and cannot be as easily molded into a way of thinking.

Our protagonist, Tris is born into Abnegation.  As a young girl she greatly admired the Dauntless for their fearlessness and often ran behind them. When Tris takes her test she gets a Divergent response and is rushed out of the testing room and told to lie and say that the serum made her sick. When Tris questions what Faction she should choose, she is told that because of her result, she has to know her own heart.  The problem is that should she choose Dauntless she will be removed from her family because society values Faction above blood.  It is further complicated because Abnegation, her faction of origin is under suspicion by Erudite who believe that Abnegation is not as selfless as they appear to be.  There has already been an issue with one child of Abnegation origin leaving the faction based in rumors of abuse. While it does happen that children do leave their faction of birth, a full 95% of them choose to stay where they are born.

The next day both Tris and her brother choose to leave their clan of origin.  Tris heads to Dauntless and immediately finds herself out of her element.  Though she is very fast, she is also substantially weaker than everyone else and risks failing to make the Faction because of it.   Tris ends up working while the others are sleeping and pulls her way from the bottom of the ranks to the very top.  The real challenge however still lies ahead because she still must past the psychological tests.  Not really being Dauntless, Tris solves things in her own manner unintentionally revealing her true nature. With observers coming to review the final testing and tensions rising between the factions, Tris knows that she cannot afford to fail. The very stability of the world that has grown up in, depends upon it.

This movie is based on a trilogy written by Beatrice Prior.  Having not read the series, I cannot discuss if the movie follows it closely, or takes artistic license due to time constraints. What I can however say is that it reminded me very much of The Hunger Games but is far less compelling of a story.  Tris is the girl who does not fit into her society because of her inability to conform and her decisions on how to negotiate this post apocalyptic Chicago become pivotal to the functioning of the world. The problem with Tris is that I cannot take her seriously.  She knew from the very beginning that she did not fit in Abnegation but at the same time never wondered about the make up of the world she existed in despite seeing the Factionless all around her.  Further, Tris didn't really express any kind of disatisfaction with the world itself until she was informed that she simply didn't fit into any category.  I hope that at least some of this was covered by internal monologue in the book itself because it certainly did not translate to the screen.

Divergent is also another in a long list of story's which kill of the parents of the protagonist.  Natalie, Tris's mother lives long enough to save her daughter and then die in her arms.  Natalie lives just long enough for Tris to have a moment of pain and then quickly move on. Andrew, the father lives long enough to pull the most ridiculous Dirty Harry routine before going down in a blaze of glory. By the time Andrew dies, Tris is so set on her path of stopping Erudite from annihilating Abnegation, Tris barely stops long enough to register that her father is dead. So not only is Divergent unoriginal it's trope laden.

There is an undercurrent of romance flowing through the movie.  Four, who also originated in Abnegation and is himself Divergent ends up becoming Tris's trainer.  Theo James, who plays Four is truly a beautiful young man and functions very much like eye candy in the film. My issue with their relationship is that during testing, one of Tris's deepest fears is to be raped by Four.  It simply does not make sense to me that she could or would romanticize a man she fears would rape her.  Four does not actually do anything predatory to Tris throughout the movie and in fact shows that he cares for her deeply, so the fear does not make sense to me either.  I am not sure what the purpose of that scene was. It seemed to be dropped into the film with absolutely zero context and was never really explained.

Divergent is yet another in long string of Dystopian set media that has no GLBT characters.  Did they all die in the war?  It makes absolutely no sense given that it is set in Chicago, albeit a dystopian Chicago.  I know the typical argument of a text not being about sex and therefore not needing these characters but this presupposes that GLBT  people are only about their sexuality.  There is absolutely no reason why they could not have been included in this story.

Some would argue that Divergent is subversive in that it is one of the few examples of a female chosen one; however, Tris is still White, hyper able bodied, cisgender and straight.  All that has changed is that the protagonist is female and while this is still a step forward, it's certainly not so removed from the male origin as to make it subversive.  Of the sixteen characters of this movie only 3 are actually of colour. Keep in mind that Divergent is set in Chicago and therefore an 18% population of colour makes absolutely no sense. Christina quickly becomes Tris's best friend when they both join Dauntless on the same day.  We learn little about Christina beyond her home faction and most of her time on screen is spent being a support system for Tris. Tori is the other WOC cast member and she also serves in a helper role in that she sends Tris away when her testing results in a Divergent response and then warns her about performing to well on the psychological testing. All that we learn about Tori is that her brother died because of his Divergent status. Again, this is yet another virtually empty character.  Finally, we have Max, who has literally been promoted to obscurity.  He is the leader of the Dauntless faction and is directly responsible for the new training standards to make Dauntless more competitive and brutal. Max appears in relatively few scenes and is apparently responsible for granting access to Dauntless soldiers to the Erudite faction. For all of his power, Max isn't even the mastermind because that role belongs to Jeanine from Erudite. To make matters worse, we are told repeatedly by Four that he was offered Max's job and turned it down. So not only is the dystopian world run largely by White, straight, heterosexual characters, unless some major changes are made, it's quite clear that they will also be the leaders of any new society which develops.

If anything, Divergent feels like a story which stumbled upon a concept already made popular by The Hunger Games, with small twists.  Beyond telling us that a war happened, we don't get to learn specifically how the factions were created or what led to the war in the first place.  This very well could have been explained in the book; however, it felt as though the movie depended far too much on props, while negating to really fill in the back story of this dystopian Chicago.  Tris, as a protagonist, is not even particularly compelling and could easily be replaceable.  She is nearly as blank as Bella from Twilight;  a role to be played by anyone, so that the viewer can ostensibly place themselves in that role. As aforementioned, Divergent erased GLBT people and had paltry inclusion of POC.  There really isn't anything to recommend this movie and at best it can be described as blah. You may not fall asleep watching but it will be hard to remember five minutes after it's over. At best, Divergent is something to watch while waiting to kill time until something better comes around.