reviewed by Tom-Tom
After watching Ender’s Game, I was in the mood for a film that took teen issues a bit more seriously. I had already seen the first successful Hunger Games film and was in the mood for something different. Along came “Divergent.” I decided to give it a try. I’m frustrated when critics dismiss books or films due to similarity of premise with other works. For me, the execution is much more important. Harry Potter’s School House system, while seemingly new and innovative to Americans, is just a sorting hat adding to an extant system. There are Prefects and Head Boys and Girls just the same in the UK. C.S. Lewis mentions as much in his memoir, “Surprised by Joy.”
“Divergent” begins with the explanation of how after a great war, society was delineated into castes so that everyone would function to the best of their ability in their place. This isn’t just a 7 year hiatus into a house that “chooses” you. It is a career choice that affects the rest of your life. The factions are as follows: Erudite, Dauntless, Abnegation, Amity, and Candor. Our hero begins in Abnegation, a sort of Mother Teresa meets Meals on Wheels meets Doctors Without Borders Amish Community. The fated career choice day is prefaced by a weird chemical Sorting Hat which runs a virtual personality test on you pointing you in the direction of your best possible choice. Interestingly enough, despite this, the candidates are able to choose whichever faction they’d like, the brainy Erudites, the fearless Dauntlesses, the Quaker like Amities, the laconic Candors or the Amish, um, Abnegations.
This is what is supposed to happen. However, Beatrice (Shailene Woodley of The Descendants fame) gets a strange result stating that she would be good in either one of three places, much like Harry Potter was a viable candidate for Gryffindor or Slitherin and Hermione for Ravenclaw or Gryffindor. But rather than being a good thing, it sends the tester, Tori Wu (Maggie Q, La Femme Nikita, MI III) into a panic. It means Beatrice is a Divergent. She is told in no uncertain terms to keep the result a secret. There is a sixth faction, or un-faction rather. The factionless. In ancient India, they would be the untouchables and in Japan, the Burakumin. In these societies, at least, the lowest castes had a function, that is to deal with the dead, or with making leather or drums. The factionless here seem basically to be homeless vagrants with no means of food but for the charity of the Abnegation folks. So each candidate for a new faction has to “make the cut” or face eternal expulsion to the casteless caste. Still with me?
Much of the second act of the film deals with Beatrice (who is rechristened Tris) trying to make the cut for her faction of choice along with other “defectors.” The trainers wisely separate the trainees into homegrown and defectors as each caste is pretty closed off from one another resulting in strange prejudices such as Abnegation folks being thought of as hoarding the extra food they are apportioned rather than giving it to the Factionless. Peter, an annoying Erudite Malfoy type, seems to exist to annoy her and spouts insults a plenty. Christina, a former Candor who, true to caste, speaks her mind, becomes fast friends with Tris. The two trainers are a sort of Good Cop, Bad Cop duo. The Good Cop is enigmatically called Four (Theo James) and the Bad Cop Eric (Jai Courtney who is better suited to a antagonistic role than in the disastrous 5th Die Hard flick).
During the course of her testing, the danger of being discovered as a Divergent gets more and more evident as Tori Wu and others explain the fate of past Divergents. She gets closer to Four and he becomes a sort of knight in shining armor. It’s not a very deep relationship as Four isn’t as fleshed out as Tris despite the packaged exposition we get about him.
The final act exposes the ugly hand of the government’s rival faction who is, gasp attempting to take over the world, or what’s left of it. We get tragedy, action scenes, and a whole lot of flesh wounds.
It’s pretty obvious this film is only part of a series and likewise that not much will be resolved here but it is satisfying to see our hero get to the end boss for a temporary confrontation. It will be interesting to see the direction the series takes but I’m in no real hurry. I can see the appeal for teen readers with its messages of non-conformation and questioning society’s rules. Unfortunately, most of the characters are paper thin. I remember that most of my love for the Harry Potter film series was backed by what I knew from the books. I’d be interested to see what avid readers of the series think of the film portrayal.