Divergent (2014)

Divergent16-year-old Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley) and her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) are preparing to take an aptitude test that will tell them where in society they belong. Future Chicago is divided into five factions, each roughly corresponding to a core character trait: Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Erudite and Dauntless. Beatrice must choose if she wants to stay in Abnegation with her parents or try her luck elsewhere, a choice she is free to make regardless of her test results. A good thing, really, as her results are inconclusive, indicating that she is in fact Divergent and therefore impossible to categorise. Divergents are not only feared but actively hunted by Erudite’s leader, Jeanine (Kate Winslet), for the danger they supposedly pose to society; so Beatrice decides to hide out in Dauntless, where she meets Four (Theo James), Peter (Miles Teller) and Eric (Jai Courtney), and inadvertently uncovers a plot to overthrow the current government.

Just as Harry Potter set a trend for magic-infused Bildungsroman, and Twilight ushered in a wave of supernatural romances, The Hunger Games has now started to inspire its own imitators and would-be successors. While those previous films were simple fantasies and wish-fulfilment, Lionsgate’s adaptations of Suzanne Collins’ novels are rather more difficult to ape. While still far from original, as anyone who has seen Battle Royale will no doubt attest, the character of Katniss Everdeen and her world of Panem are much more complex than your average Young Adult fare. The Hunger Games (and to a lesser extent its sequel, Catching Fire) is startlingly relevant and bitingly satirical, commenting on everything from reality television to consumer culture.

Cue Divergent, the first challenger to Katniss’ crown ahead of the summer releases of both The Maze Runner and The Giver. Based on the first book in Veronica Roth’s ‘Divergent Universe’, Neil Burger’s adaptation does little to mask its influences. Here there are five factions where The Hunger Games had twelve districts, a selection process where Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone had a sorting ceremony, and a zip-wire scene where Twilight had vampire baseball. The problem, aside from sheer familiarity, is that none of it makes the slightest bit of sense. Divergents (people who don’t belong in a single faction) are feared by all, yet the factionless (people who don’t belong in a single faction) are simply pitied. It’s a society where all of the smart people live in Erudite (pick up a Thesaurus, Roth did), except for the smart people who live elsewhere (Four is shown to be pretty handy with futuristic medical equipment). The film should really be retitled Arbitrary.

With such faulty foundations it should come as no surprise that the film barely hangs together. Beatrice — or Tris, as she renames herself — is impossible to sympathise with; she’s from a good family and an admirable faction (Abnegation, in case you still have that Thesaurus handy, is a place of stoic austerity and selflessness), and yet turns her back on everything to hang with the cool kids at Dauntless. This literally seems to be the sum of her thought process; she sees a gang of leather-bound hoodlums jumping off of trains and cutting the queue for the Choosing Ceremony and decides there and then that those are the kinds of people she wants to spend her life with. We’re then told that these rebels are the factions’ security division, though worryingly they seem completely taken aback when Tris brings up tactics during a game of Capture The Flag. For the most part they just seem to get tattoos and leap off of buildings.

We’re supposed to root for Tris because she’s Divergent, and therefore enlightened and ‘special’. The message should be clear from the start — you can’t put people into categories, particularly categories based on personality — and yet rather than just come out and say it the film finds increasingly confused and convoluted ways of expressing its themes. With however many books left in the series Divergent is in no hurry to reach a conclusion; indeed, Tris spends most of the film pretending to be Dauntless so as not to be discovered, like a real hero. Suddenly we’re back to Bella Swan-level passivity, as Tris trains to react to a series of dreams in a way befitting her faction — like that bit in Order of the Phoenix where Snape taught Harry Occlumency. One such dream involves drowning in a glass coffin; to simply smash the glass wouldn’t be very Dauntless (though they seem quite happy to hit everything else) and might reveal her to be Divergent, so instead she must learn to use her problem-solving faculties to plug the hole through which water is entering the chamber (surely a feat of reasoning expected of someone from Erudite?). It’s nonsense.

It’s impossible to overstate just how stupid this movie is. If you’re not scratching your head at the logistics of a world split into five mutually exclusive factions (randomly represented at the Choosing Ceremony by five bowls containing — among other things — rocks, water and fire), then you’re struggling to imagine what motives beyond sheer common sense the characters might have for wanting to tear the old system down. Oh, that’s right, Erudite are staging a coup by injecting Dauntless with a brainwashing substance so that they can then be controlled by computer. Because of course they are.

1-Star

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About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

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