Movie Review: Divergent

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In a dystopian future where society is split into factions based on a person’s core virtue, Tris discovers that by not conforming to one virtue she’s Divergent, and uncovers a plot that puts herself and other Divergents in jeopardy.

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Neil Burger (2014)

Beatrice (Shailene Woodley) lives in Chicago in the distant future 100 years after The War, when the rest of humanity, we are told in expository voice-over, has been wiped out. To maintain the peace, society has been split into five factions named by someone who owns a thesaurus and knows how to use it, by gum – Abegnation (selflessness), Amity (Hufflepuff kindness), Candor (honesty), Dauntless (Gryffindor courage), and Erudite (Ravenclaw smart). At some undisclosed age (probably 18-ish, I guess?), the kids must take a test that decides their core virtue. They then choose a faction to live in for the rest of their lives and never ever talk to or see anyone from their old lives again (“faction before blood”) – and they don’t have to choose the one the test told them was best for them. Most kids choose the faction they’re born to, but Beatrice is special – when she took the test, she found out she was Divergent. She has three core virtues instead of one, making her much more virtuous and more dangerous than anyone else, and super special. She has to keep her specialness a secret, of course, because it’s terribly dangerous to be different. Beatrice chooses to enter Dauntless and shortens her name to Tris. At Dauntless she is trained to be a soldier by Good Cop Four (Theo James) and Bad Cop Eric (Jai Courtney), getting beaten up a lot in the name of courage. She makes friends and things seem to be going well for her, until her secret is on the verge of being discovered, and she stumbles upon a plot to eradicate divergence from the system.

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There is SO MUCH going on in this movie. For such a simple world, it’s an incredibly over-complicated plot, and the filmmakers seem hell-bent on including every detail in the film’s 140-minute run time. (This is a LONG movie. Bring snacks. Plan a pee break.) We spend a while being introduced to the future as author Veronica Roth (only 21 when this was published, so props to her) envisions it. Future Chicago is well-realised, a crumbling war-torn city with a low-tech society trying to rebuild (well, except Erudite, who are super high-tech for some reason and wear sexy businesswoman suits instead of the grey tunics of Abegnation or the extensive leather of Dauntless). There’s a particularly memorable scene where Tris takes a nighttime flying fox through crumbling buildings, an initiation ritual that seems way less scary than everything she’s had to do up until then. There’s a lot of discussion of fears and virtues, of figuring out and finding yourself, of conformation and rebellion and identity. It’s a lot to put into one film and it means that a lot of it is confusing and forgettable, unfortunately, given that there’s some interesting ideas at its core.

Shailene Woodley is great as the thrill-seeking Tris. That girl’s face is like 80% eyes, I swear. The rest of the cast doesn’t quite match her energy, though Zoe Kravitz puts in a game performance as best friend Christina. Theo James is as bland as bland can be in the mysterious love interest role, but Miles Teller gives his antagonist some bite. Kate Winslet barely seems present, wearing lots of blue as the leader of Ravenclaw Erudite, though she livens up a bit during the climactic fight scene. The film is fantastically feminist, with a variety of women at different levels of power taking roles that are often taken by men – Tris’s mother is particularly interesting. The stakes are also high, with Tris losing a lot in really violent ways. I’m hoping that teens would enjoy this movie and take away some of the better messages, even if some of it is contradictory and tropetastic, though I have a feeling the extensive runtime might cause problems luring in new fans. Overall, for a movie about someone extraordinary, it’s just average.

Divergent on IMDb

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