Review of Divergent

Rich Morgan ’14

If I had to summarize Divergent in a single phrase, I could sum it up thusly: it’s Harry Potter, The Hunger Games and Twilight all trying to be 1984, only it’s not very effective in any of those components. On the one hand, Divergent wants to be a chilling dystopia; conversely, it also wants to be a swashbuckling adventure story. It doesn’t excel at either.

Adapted from a young adult novel of the same name, Divergent tells the story of the young heroine Triss Prior—a sort of teenage everywoman who looks like a slightly pudgier, slightly less attractive pre-downfall Lindsay Lohan (this isn’t an insult). Born and raised in a post-apocalyptic Chicago, Triss lives in a world divided into five factions—Abnegation, Candor, Erudite, Amity, and Dauntless—each of which embodies a particular virtue and governs a particular aspect of society. Triss is born into the Abnegation faction and enjoys a perfectly ordinary life, but her prospects take a turn for the portentous when, in her coming-of-age faction evaluation, she doesn’t fit into any single faction. She is “divergent,” hence the title. The rest of the film follows her attempts to fit in with the new faction she chooses, her journey of self-discovery and her efforts to thwart a sinister plot that threatens to wipe out countless innocents.

Sounds like pretty standard dystopian fare, doesn’t it? Granted, the world that the film constructs is admittedly interesting, but it doesn’t feel sufficiently fleshed out. Now, I haven’t read the novel, so perhaps this isn’t a problem in the source material. In the film, though, we only see in detail how two of the factions live; the other factions are relegated only to snippets. And therein lies one of Divergent’s core problems—its failure in the way of world-building. World-building is critical to the success of a dystopia. Whereas the format of a novel allows for extensive digressions to facilitate world-building, film operates on the basis of compression, meaning that a coherent, believable world must be built while maintaining a reasonable length that doesn’t drag on (Divergent is two and a half hours as it is). That’s not to say it can’t be done, however—just look at Blade Runner. As it stands, though, the world of Divergent doesn’t feel sufficiently grounded. It feels more like a caricature, a sort of conceit meant to facilitate the film’s overarching conflict of conformity vs. individuality. If the world of the film doesn’t feel legitimate, however, then the conflicts end up feeling a little ill-conceived, as well.

And now for the action-adventure elements of the film. In this regard, I’ll admit that Divergent is more successful than its attempts at dystopia. At the very least, it’s entertaining, albeit a bit predictable. Triss actually has a solidly-conceived character arc, and the film, despite its length, moves at a quick enough clip to keep things from feeling stale. Toss that together with some nicely-filmed hallucination sequences and you’ve got solid entertainment. That being said, Divergent suffers from a few too many implausible plot devices, occasionally eye-rolling dialogue, and one of the funniest onscreen romances I’ve ever seen. Seriously, I was more entertained by the romance sub-plot than anything else—and not for the reasons that were probably intended: the gruff bad boy who secretly harbors a heart of gold, the spunky young upstart who slowly wins his affection, one of the most unintentionally funny visual metaphors for coitus ever put to film, and an obligatory scene where Scottie2Hottie takes his shirt off and flaunts his sick tats—it’s fan-service through and through, and I laughed at every second of it. If you’re the sort of person who squealed when Taylor Lautner took his shirt off in New Moon, then you’ll probably dig it, but I don’t understand why you wouldn’t save yourself ten dollars and spend your evening on Google Images instead.

All things considered, Divergent could have been a lot worse. Its world feels a bit flimsy, its adventure isn’t downright exhilarating and its examination of individuality in the face of conformity feels far too simplified, but if you’re looking to waste an evening on the young-adult formula of watered-down political intrigue and washboard abs that rakes in millions of dollars each year, then don’t let me stop you.

Overall Rating – 2/5

Photo via EOnline

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