March 26, 2014 -- After suffering through the Twilight Series, the first, lackluster Hunger Games movie, Beautiful Creatures, Ender's Game, The Host and a seemingly endless string of these things that mostly fell far short of the “Harry Potter” films, it was a relief to be pleasantly surprised by “Divergent.” I was not expecting much, based on early reviews, but this is actually a good movie.
For once, there is a romance between two young characters that seems real. This film also has a strong female lead, who is, in fact, the film's main character, almost unheard of these days in any genre movie lacking a character named Katniss. The other thing that makes this film different is that the main character is not buffeted around by circumstances. She has no super powers. There's no prophecy or magic that ensures her success. She charts her own course, with courage, intelligence and determination. She is a real, human hero, a role almost exclusively reserved for men these days. That is so refreshing.
This film takes place in a dystopian future in which war has decimated mankind (obviously, I didn't read the book). In what is left of Chicago (it was actually filmed there, too) Beatrice Prior (played by Shailene Woodley of “The Spectacular Now”) is about to take a psychological test to determine her place in a society with a rigid insect-like structure. Everyone, starting at 16, is herded into “factions” consisting of leaders (Abnegation) warriors (Dauntless) intellectuals (Erudite) and other factions. Those who don't fit into any of these narrowly-defined factions become homeless bums. They are divergent.
Beatrice has always been attracted to the Dauntless faction, although she was born into the Abnegation faction, which her parents, Natalie (Ashley Judd) and Andrew (Tony Goldwyn of “Ghost”) and twin brother, Caleb (Ansel Elgort of “Carrie”) all seem to be well-suited for. It turns out that Beatrice is divergent. She does'nt fit into any faction. Despite intense pressure to conform, she decides to choose the Dauntless faction, but if she does'nt fit in there, she could become one of the homeless, or worse. In a surprising move, her brother chooses the Erudite faction. This means both 16-year-old children of the Prior family will instantly move away from home and become part of societies separate from their parents.
Beatrice, who chooses the name “Tris,” goes into basic training to become a member of the Dauntless faction, who form both the police and army roles in this society. This training is exactly like conventional military boot camp training. Tris discovers she has little talent for fighting, so she has to train extra hard to make the cut. She does have a talent for knife-throwing and she passes the psychological tests with flying colors. However, her instructor, Four (Theo James of “Underworld: Awakening”) begins to suspect that Tris is divergent because of her unusual psychological profile. Tris discovers that divergents like herself are being sought out and murdered.
More complications arise when the Erudite faction tries to overthrow the Abnegation faction for leadership of the society and the Dauntless faction gets caught in the middle of this political power struggle. It turns out the Erudites are willing to go to any lengths to get power. Basically, they are willing to destroy the very society they claim to be saving. This plot to take power is extremely evil and nasty, but also believable. It is up to the underground divergent movement to stop it.
Of course this society makes no sense from biological, psychological, political, economic or sociological considerations. Any society which depends on 16-year-olds already knowing exactly what they want to do with the rest of their lives is doomed to failure. This is a dark fairy tale of a society. You just have to suspend your disbelief about all those things to enjoy this film. What makes this film palatable are the characters, who are believable, unlike the characters in most recent juvenile book adaptations. They have compelling, believable personalities, ambitions, loyalties, motives and attractions. This gives this story a grounding it would not have otherwise. The actors are convincing and the characters work in this movie. These are characters I don't mind seeing again. This film rates a B.
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