"G.I. Jane Lite" with a splash of "The Handmaid's Tale", "Divergent" earns 5 stars on some fronts, but 3 stars on others. So I'm splitting the difference at 4.
Here we meet Beatrice, a young woman living in a post-war, dystopian society contained within what remains of Chicago. Toward never again suffering the conditions having occasioned said war (some sort of chaos, apparently), society now categorizes its people according to inherent temperament into five “factions,” each serving a societal function.
Upon reaching a certain age, young adults receive a neurological test that indicates their best faction fit (a “chemical Sorting Hat,” if you will). Most opt to honor the test result, but free will isn’t dead just yet, and they may still choose any faction they wish.
Whatever the choice, however, it is permanent, and if they find they cannot conform sufficiently to their chosen faction’s role, they will be turned out, relegated to the ranks of the “factionless” (who bear a striking resemblance to the contemporary American homeless; the implication that people of such status are there as a result of their own poor choices hints at a vicious prejudice, but that conversation’s outside scope at the moment).
But then there are those whose test results fall across temperaments, who are emotionally complex, who diverge from the norm… and can’t have that. Oh no. Such destabilizing elements must be stamped out like an infection for the good of all. Bad news for Beatrice…
In many ways, "Divergent" belongs in the faction of Five Stars, those gloriously well-executed pieces that challenge us on several levels while dazzling us with their beauty.
First, "Divergent" is exceptionally well-executed with regard to direction, cinematography, costume and production design, and casting. We completely absorb the well-ordered, if arguably dry, societal conditions that sustain the new order; we can see why it results generally in contentment and harmonious self-sufficiency. The environs are intriguing, the distinctions drawn so elegantly that were one not divergent, the whole concept may even seem appealing.
Additionally, I strongly encourage any parent of a tween/teen daughter old enough to handle shoot ‘em up violence to put this movie in front of her at the earliest possible opportunity.
As well as depicting virtually every angle of young adulthood ( including belonging, individuation, identity, fear, loss, love, and leadership), Divergent offers perhaps the most flying-colors-passing of the Bechdel Test I think I’ve ever seen. Not only are there named female characters who discuss something other than men, there are several named female characters who discuss virtually everything except men, including loyalty, choice, power, courage, and public policy.
(I’m reminded of "Sex and the City" TV’s "The Way We Were" discussion of complex and simple women, echoed in "Celeste and Jesse Forever" ~ “Your girl is lovely, Hubble.” If you’re into that kind of passive simplicity, you’ll love it here in new Chicago. May I introduce you to Kate Winslet?)
Were I fourteen, I would be utterly obsessed with this film and its world (and yes, Theo James and his character) for at least a month. At least. (And as I said, were I my parent, I would encourage this wholeheartedly and do my best to keep it going.)
But alas, despite these 5-star attributes, a certain faction in me railed against the illogic of many elements: Why kill the divergents? The wall is strong, just turn them out to fashion their own society. Certainly their families would support this option as preferable to extermination.
And what of the families? One could argue that this system is working, but when families distribute across factions, but why outlaw subsequent contact? The system is based on matching, not sentencing, so why the all the furtive stares and sharp corrections when two types converse? Surely one can maintain faction loyalty as first priority without being contaminated by the occasionally phone home.
Given the system’s constraints and biases, Beatrice has ample fodder for rebellion just against the system itself, fuggeddabout divergence. The story could easily have been sustained without this added element, and at least in cinema quite probably better; divergence, even though the supposed central element, is insufficiently explored and all but lost in the shuffle of other challenges that stand plenty well on their own, and relate directly to forces our young people face every day.
And speaking of being insufficiently explored, why would a certain divergent, rather than hiding this extremely dangerous attribute, essentially display it for all the world to see? You’ll know it when you get there, and it creates quite the impressive moment, I’ll grant, but if one is trying to pass, maybe don’t wear a sign saying, “Hey! I’m divergent!”
Faction before blood, they say. Poetry before logic, I guess. Breadth before depth. Immersion before precision (this sucker is long). Something feels lost from page to screen, and there’s so much left to question that all challenge runs together, leaving the lasting impression somehow flat.
To its target audience, it’ll be spectacular. To action fans in search of a good movie, it delivers well. To those who require careful crafting and subplot, it may leave one wanting.
Belonging equally in five stars and three, and conforming sufficiently enough for its role as four, I suppose Divergent is, well…
Story: A young woman living in a post-apocalyptic, dystopian culture finds that she doesn’t fit into its refined system of order, which makes her a threat to all who support it…
Genre: Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi
Directed by: Neil Burger
Official site: http://divergentthemovie.com/
Running time: 139 minutes
Houston release date: March 21, 2014
Tickets: Check Fandango, IMDb, or your local listings
Screened Mar 18th at the Edwards Marq*E theater in Houston TX