Starring: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Ashley Judd
Director: Neil Burger
Screenplay: Evan Daugherty, Vanessa Taylor
Action/Adventure/Science-Fiction, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 139 minutes
Release Date: March 21, 2014
Triss: Single, P-PP Emotional/Physical, Pro (Classic Lone Hero)
Jeanine: Single, N-NN Moral, Ant (Hidden Irredemable Villain)
Eric: Single, N-N Moral, Ant (Untransformed Lone Villain)
Peter: Single, P-N Moral, Ant (Fallen Villain)
It’s time for our weekly diversion and review Divergent.
It’s great that we can converge to review Divergent.
We’re introduced to 16-year-old Beatrice (Triss) Prior (Shailene Woodley) who lives in dystopian Chicago. In the future, all Chicagoans are divided into 5 factions: Abnegation (selfless), Amity (kind), Candor (honest), Erudite (intelligent) and Dauntless (brave). Beatrice is a member of the Abnegation and she has come of age and must choose which faction she will live in for the rest of her life. She takes a simulation test which is supposed to tell her which faction she is most inclined to. The problem is, her test is inconclusive. This is unheard of. Everyone is supposed to be aligned with one faction or another. People who are not aligned are called “Divergent.” And Divergents are the most feared of people because they can think for themselves.
As a Divergent, Beatrice is in danger. The Erudite are attempting to gain control of the city and are intent on exterminating all Divergents. At the choosing ceremony, Beatrice opts to become a member of the Dauntless and must prove herself worthy of this warrior group in a series of grueling initiation tests. Her first step toward redefining herself is to assume the name ‘Triss’. She then must overcome a cruel bully leader of the Dauntless (Jai Courtney) and then must take steps to hide her Divergent status from the head Erudite, Jeanine (Kate Winslet), who is on a ruthless quest to seize the leadership role from the Abnegation.
Scott, I had read the book this movie is based upon. It was over 480 pages in length and took me 11 hours to listen to the audiobook. I was concerned that the movie wouldn’t be able to do justice to the book. I was pleased that the movie was actually better than the book in many ways. The book spends about 75% of the story focused on the initiation of Triss into the Dauntless. The movie balanced the beginning, middle, and end.
Having said that, I found the story to be derivative of other stories we’ve seen on the big screen in recent years. The division of society into basic groupings was used in the Harry Potter series where the students were divided into four houses: Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin – each with its own personality. In The Hunger Games Katniss’ country of Panem was divided into 13 Districts – each with its own speciality. This division into and belonging to a group is prevalent in Young Adult novels and movies.
Greg, I was impressed by Divergent. The movie manages to capture the most appealing elements of both Hunger Games and Enders Game. These two films, along with Divergent, feature a strong young hero who is thrust into a dark world run by corrupt elders. The young hero must pass arduous tests and harrowing simulations. The neophyte hero then encounters real hazards that require an abundance of guts, grit, and resourcefulness to overcome. Underdog stories such as these have a natural, universal allure.
Shailene Woodley is outstanding in her role as Triss, a young woman on a voyage of self-discovery. I found her character to have far more depth and nuance than Katniss in Hunger Games. Triss spends this movie trying to reconcile others’ expectations of her with her own quest for self-knowledge and self-growth. There is everything one would want in a hero journey here. Triss attracts allies among the Dauntless and is mentored by both her mother and Four (Theo James), who also serves as a love interest. Challenges both physical and intellectual in nature are met and resolved in sometimes surprising ways. The hero journey is packed to delicious satisfaction.
The world Triss lives in is more interesting to me. The five factions seem to represent the five divisions of society. The Abnegation serve the factionless (aka homeless). They are the politicians and public servants. The Amity represent the workers, Candor are the legal entity, Erudite are the academics and Dauntless represent the police and military.
Triss let me down as a hero. When compared to Katniss we find that she is constantly relying on the beneficence of others, namely her love interest Four. When she’s in trouble, he comes to her rescue. Katniss, on the other hand was constantly saving Peeta from his demise. While it’s true that Triss took initiative, she never really overcame her fears. On the contrary, her “special power” is that she is fearless already. I grant you that Triss is on a journey of self-discovery, but that is true of most young adult heroes. Triss offers nothing special in that regard.
Au contraire, Greg, I could be wrong but I believe that Triss saves Four’s life as many times as he saves her’s. There is one particular brilliant scene toward the end of the movie that stands out. Four has been brainwashed to attack and kill Triss, who ingeniously realizes that the only way to save them both is to point the gun at herself with Four’s finger on the trigger. She forces Four to look her in the face, when she knows he cannot fire the gun, and in this way she spares her own life while snapping him out of his hypnotic state. It’s a daring move and is quite possibly the most powerful scene in the movie.
There is great chemistry between Triss and Four, with far more sizzle than we see with Katniss and Peeta in The Hunger Games. I’m not sure I can disagree with you about her journey of self-discovery being all-too common in movies about young adult heroes. With youth comes naivete and it could be argued that it’s a tiresome missing quality in youthful heroes. But this science fiction setting puts a unique and refreshing spin on this journey. I enjoyed it considerably.
There were a handful of villain characters in this movie, too. First was Eric (Jai Courtney) the drill sergeant of the Dauntless. He was intent on driving out any weakling initiate and he didn’t care if they died in the process. Another was Peter (Miles Teller), the over-zealous initiate who would do anything to rise to the top of rankings. Finally, there was Jeanine, the leader of the Erudite who was driven to take over the Dauntless and destroy the Abnegation.
I think we see three distinct types of villain here. Jeanine is very much the “invisible” villain we’ve seen in other films. She really doesn’t have much to do in the main flow of the movie, but is revealed in the end to be very corrupt. Like the villains we’ve seen in Non-Stop and Ride Along, she exposes her evil plot to the audience in the climax of the film. Eric represents the “clear and present” villain – one who is constantly in the face of the hero and the one the hero has to deal with. We saw this in 3 Days to Kill and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. Finally, Peter represents the villain within the group. This is the arch rival in such films as last year’s Ender’s Game.
Good observation about the layerings of the villains, Greg. The head villain, Jeanine, is in some ways a strong character but in other ways she seems to disappoint. Her strength lies in her believability; Jeanine’s motives are not entirely evil although they are certainly grossly misguided. Her cold-heartedness is almost understandable given the rigidity of the system of which she is a product. It pains me to say that at the ripe old age of 38, Kate Winslet is cast to play a misguided elder of her society, a symbol of an archaic system that brainwashes and brutalizes its young.
Although I admire this aspect of Jeanine’s villainy, I was left disappointed with the one-dimensionality of her character. We are never told of her backstory, and in fact we know little about her other than she is willing to commit Abnegation genocide in order to raise her faction’s ruling power. Winslet does the best she can with her character but has little to work with. It seems this is the plight of the villain in most movies – they have the depth of cardboard and meander in the film’s periphery until it is time for the hero to topple them.
I found Divergent to be a nice diversion but lacked the coherence of the film it will be forever compared to: The Hunger Games. It was longish at 2 hours and 20 minutes – necessary to encompass the origin story and dispatching the villain. The screenwriters were challenged to pack everything in the book into the movie. However, they made some excellent choices in reducing the complexity of the book. I give Divergent 3 out of 5 Reels.
Triss was a good hero for her growth and depicting the angst of young adults trying to fit in both in society and within a social group. I thought she lacked the kind of independence I’d like to see in a young female hero. Even in the end of the movie she needed help from Four to climb onto her escape train. I give her 3 out of 5 Heroes.
I liked the multiple levels of villains in this story. While we have yet to see a fully formed complex villain character this year, I enjoyed watching Triss deal with Peter as a peer villain, Eric as the leader-villain, and Jeanine as the omnipresent invisible villain. I give them 3 out of 5 Villains.
Divergent offers a fun and psychologically rich story about a young woman’s journey toward self-discovery and self-actualization. This movie sends us into a fascinating world that lumps its citizens into oversimplified categories that fulfill rigid social roles. Once again we have a story along the lines of the Hunger Games that questions a societal status quo that permits and encourages human suffering and injustices. I enjoyed Divergent and recommend it very much. I give it 4 Reels out of 5.
The hero story was outstanding for many of the reasons I’ve already stated. Triss starts out uncertain of her self-identity and is forced by circumstances to undergo a satisfying personal transformation. By the film’s end, she knows her place in the world and how she can engineer positive social change. In addition, her journey contains all the relevant stages of the mythic hero journey. I award Triss 5 Heroes out of 5.
Once again, the villains were a significant notch (or two) below the heroes in their depth and quality. They did fulfill the function of a good villain but didn’t particularly stir me with their personalities or backstories. A month from now, I probably won’t remember them at all. For this reason I’ll give them a mere 2 Villains out of 5.