Brave old world
Intense action can’t hide clichés
By Ian Murphy 03/27/2014
Directed by Neil Burger
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Ashley Judd
Rated PG-13 for intense violence and action, thematic elements and some sensuality
2 hr. 19 min.
Dystopian glimpses into our possible future are nothing new. Aldous Huxley wrote about them, Joy Division sang about them, and Ridley Scott made movies about them. And while Divergent definitely takes something from all of these slightly archaic references, in the end it is the action that speaks more loudly than the words.
The film takes place in a future Chicago, where society has been divided into five different factions after some sort of war has taken place and forced the citizens to take refuge behind a gigantic wall and reinvent society for themselves. The five factions that have been designated are Abnegation, the selfless philanthropists; Dauntless, the crazy defenders; Erudite, the intelligent philosophers; Candor, the honest ones; and Amity, the peaceful farmers. Subtlety seemingly has no place in this brave new world.
Beatrice (Tris) Prior (Shailene Woodley) has been raised to be in the Abnegation faction her whole life. She has never really felt as if she belonged there, but that is her family’s chosen path. But rule No. 1 is “Faction before blood,” and when she chooses to join the Dauntless, her life really begins.
The Dauntless are the protectors of this new society. They have no fear. They blindly follow orders. They are the crazy, relentless soldiers that make sure everything is safe and sound by being unsafe and unsound. Beatrice is enchanted by their reckless yet socially acceptable attitude, which is why she chooses them. But during her aptitude test, she realizes she may be something more, something that might just shake the foundation of not only her world but also the world of everyone around her.
The transition from page to screen can be painful, as most of the source material is lost in translation, and sadly, Divergent is a classic case of this. There is a rich, many-colored world that is largely ignored, seeing as how the Dauntless are the primary focus of the movie. And that is not to lay blame on the filmmakers, as the Dauntless are the most exciting of the five factions presented. Beatrice, however, the one the audience discovers the world through, comes across as a rather boring, vanilla example of how not to represent a protagonist. Her triumphs throughout the film are meant to be due to the fact that she is brave, but every time she is in trouble, another character comes to her rescue. And while the tone of the film is intended to show that in this world most people are one-dimensional, the writing gives little for the actors to do other than follow suit.
The action in the film is the saving grace as the fight scenes are intense, brutal, and for once we get to see the protagonist actually develop. Unlike most movies that feature a barely legal-looking heroine, this movie goes out of its way to show how Beatrice becomes the seasoned warrior that she is destined to be (without the use of a montage).
Hollywood has recently taken a shine to concepts of a clean, slick, well-lit science fiction future where very pretty people have adventures in safe, secure surroundings, but only if you follow the rules of the almighty big brother who is always watching. It is unclear if Divergent is meant as a cautionary tale or as a pseudo punk rock metaphor for doing what you want, when you want, however you want. But at almost two and a half hours of fight club-fueled soap opera drama, it is an exhaustive tale that is better left on the page.