Movie #9: Divergent

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Riding on the dystopian, young-adult coattails of The Hunger Games, Divergent was another series to make it to the ranks of blockbuster movie adaptation. Even before reading the book, I was skeptical of the premise. In a future-Chicago, society has split everyone into factions based on individual ideals (e.g. the selfless belong to the Abnegation faction, and the brave belong to the Dauntless). Apparently this was the way to create peace after a devastating war destroys most of civilization (or at least the US). Beatrice (played by Shailene Woodley) is part of Abnegation, but soon learns that her personality does not fall into any of the faction categories. Told that she must keep the secret of being “divergent” or endanger her own life, on the day of her choosing ceremony she surprisingly decides to join the Dauntless faction. Beatrice renames herself Tris and leaves her family and loved ones behind to make a new family in Dauntless, including other transferring initiates and a stolid trainer named Four (played by Theo James). While I like a good dystopia as much as the next guy, I had the same problem with the one in this film as I had in the original book. I don’t like how it has over-simplified humanity into these five types. I can see how it makes things easier for storytelling when the characters’ roles are all pre-determined and their value systems are relatively straightforward. Of course it also makes it easy to distinguish our heroine from the rest of the world — she’s special because she’s different. I think you end up losing a lot of the nuances of characterization and everyone becomes more of a “type”. It’s also not great that the language of the book is pretty unsophisticated. The movie similarly doles out its meaning in easy to manage pieces. Woodley isn’t bad as Tris, playing it both vulnerable and feisty at the same time. As the relationship between Tris and Four develops, I still didn’t really notice any chemistry between the two leads. A couple of other notable names who appear in the movie are Ashley Judd as Tris’s mother, Natalie; and Kate Winslet as Jeanine, the leader of the Erudite faction. It’s more evidence of the over-simplicity of this movie that it’s obvious that Jeanine is up to no good (oops! spoilers…). Villains are pretty easy to spot in this society. In the end, I’m not sure if I prefer the book or the movie. The movie has a number of scenes that were hard to visualize in the book: the zip-line “initiation” was definitely a  lot more fun than what I imagined. Also there was thankfully less focus on the fighting-practice scenes (on that note, what’s with all these writers who speculate that the best way to teach kids is to make them brutalize each other for credit and rank?). I’m not quite sure when I’ll get to the second book, but I think it’s no skin off my nose to plan on watching the second movie of this trilogy. Maybe it will bring some nuance and 3-dimensionality (and I’m not talking about the kind with glasses) to the franchise (3.5 out of 5)

9 down, 41 to go.

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