Sunday, March 23, 2014

Divergent (USA, 2014)

Nine Things about the Movie Divergent

1. This film is based on the first book of the popular young adult trilogy of novels.

2. If you haven’t noticed, contemporary young adult stories typically follow a set formula - an innocent kid joins a larger society and must be categorized. But then the kid discovers they are “special”, which causes problems for the society, and the kid must lose their innocence to survive in a dangerous world . Some recent examples are “The Hunger Games”, “Ender’s Game”, and the Harry Potter series. “Divergent” sticks to that exact same formula.

3. Just because you have seen this basic story multiple times does not mean the movie is bad. These kinds of stories are popular because it is the archetypal “hero’s journey” myth, and, if they are well-made, hit a nerve with us. Such movies can sometimes become classics - “The Wizard of Oz”, “The Lord of the Rings” and “Star Wars” are other, older examples of pretty much the exact same story.

4. Thankfully, “Divergent” is well done, and holds its own among its cinematic peers. It’s about a girl named Tris who takes a test (kind of like Harry Potter’s “sorting hat” or Ender’s training monitor) to discover which of five distinct factions she will become a member of (like Hogwart’s Houses or the Zones in “The Hunger Games”). But she is so special that the test breaks, and nobody knows what to do with her (like all the stories I just mentioned). So she must trust her gut and decide in secret.

4. Tris chooses her faction and begins her training, but she’s so gifted that she draws attention to herself, not only from her fellow classmates, but from her hunky instructor, too. And the leaders of another faction, who have controversial political aspirations.

5. The movie handles the usual themes well - conformity vs. independence, fear vs. bravery, and the trauma of growing up. But it also subtly asks a couple of bigger questions that are unfortunately not explored here; questions like “What is human nature, anyway?” and “While conformity may seem bad, what would happen if we were all independent?”.

6. The acting is decent, and the main characters have good chemistry. Thankfully, the movie delays the inevitable romance as long as it can, and tries not to let it get in the way of the bigger story.

7. Being aimed at young adults, there is not much blood or death, but some people may be surprised that there is a relatively high amount of violence, both explicit and implied.

8. The other two books, “Insurgent” and “Allegiant”, are expected to be made into movies and released in theaters in 2015 and 2016, respectively.

9. So yes, the story is old and predictable. No, “Divergent” won’t become a timeless classic. But if you aren’t just totally over this type of movie, it’s worth seeing. And it makes you realize why this same story keeps getting turned into movies over and over again: The issues that teenagers struggle with never go away. Mothers, fathers, sons and daughters are all dealing with the same existential problems. Only our perspective changes. And sometimes our choices.