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Divergent is a great film to show anyone that thinks the current zeitgeist is too ironic. It’s based on a young adult sci-fi bestseller (a sequence of words that is to this era what ‘bitching sax solo‘ was to the 80’s) by Veronica Roth. Expect one instalment annually.
The main strength of the best non-hunger games of the year is its dumb earnestness. It takes place in a dystopian society that forces our heroine, Tris, (Shailene Woodley) to take a test as a teenager that will determine the rest of her life. She lives in a world that sections people into castes, based on personality types. On taking the test she finds that she doesn’t fit in, that she is a ‘divergent’ personality; a threat to the system and must hide her identity. The adults just don’t, like, get her. You know?
Plot wise, in a move that will surprise no one, Tris chooses to leave the boring, selfless faction and joins the leather wearing, parkour running, sexy teen faction. Oddly this faction isn’t hopelessly overcrowded. While there she undergoes a lot of training, kisses a brooding badboy and becomes involved in resisting a coup lead by Kate Winslet.
The angst and romantic longing strike a chord emotionally but the film really, really falls down when it comes to pacing. The plot, which is simple enough, feels like a lazy non-adaptation. Every stage of training is given as much weight as the next. Moments best left to a montage are made into whole sequences. The result is a plodding movie that should have been a light romp.
Another issue is that the sci-fi world uses as much logic as a wet dream. For example, the authorities spend the whole film rooting out divergents. This, in spite of the personality test already being a thing in this universe. It’s just one they choose to administer without witnesses where it’s possible to cross out ‘divergent’ and write ‘obedient citizen’, or whatever, on the results. One brilliant non-sequitir involves Tris being plugged into a machine that visualises her fears. What would you expect to see? Her being ‘outed’ as divergent? Her family being killed in the coming political violence? Your average psychosexual phobias? Nope; birds. She’s scared of birds, apparently.
Lots of smart, funny people have argued that the story is one of a conventionally pretty girl having to deal with discovering that she is not just brave, but selfless and smart too. That is true, to an extent, but do you remember being a teenager? The pointless, arbitrary tests that seemed like a huge deal? The feeling that most of us still have, however misguided, that there’s some kind of complex ‘real’ us that we keep hidden? The world of the movie doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. I’m inclined to go easy on it. This isn’t Brave New World. It’s a Smiths song, filled with guns, for people who are too young to know who Morrissey is.
There are better movies out there but at least this keeps the young people away from neknominations and rainbow parties. And that, people, is what you call damning with faint praise.