Yes, this one is coming in with all the
hype of the new “Hunger Games,” and that’s probably an unfair burden to
place on any film. But when one
considers the succession of the “Harry Potter” series and the
“Twilight” series, it’s obvious that films that appeal to teenagers (and
especially young teenage girls) are here to stay.
Their audience is huge, and it changes constantly, so “the next big
thing” for that demographic becomes monumentally important at the box
In the “Divergent” series, in the
indeterminate future, there was some kind of big war 100 years ago which left
the city of
’s skyline still wearing some of the old devastation and destruction.
Since this is told from the perspective of a sixteen-year-old girl,
Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley), we don’t really get a catch-up history
lesson, nor do we seem to know much of what’s happening outside our
immediate environment. We do know that
they’ve built this huge fence around the city, for “security and
protection” (though we’re never quite sure who the menacing enemy out
there is, either).
What we do know is that Society is
divided into five groups, or Factions, by their particular strength or virtue:
Erudite (intelligence), Abnegation (selflessness), Amity
(peacefulness), Candor (honesty), and Dauntless (bravery).
This part goes by really quickly at the beginning of the movie, but
it’s important to catch the intent here: you
group up with your parents within a particular Faction.
Each contributes something to the Society:
the Erudite are the researchers and scientists, the Amity, believing in
harmony, do the farming together, the Candor folks run the courts system (how
great would it be to outlaw deception in that venue?), the Dauntless are the
brave cops/security force, and the Abnegation Faction, where Beatrice grows
up, are the selfless ones who are the social workers, and those in the helping
professions, and right now they are also the public servants like government
officials, but it seems a revolt is afoot. The
Erudites are trying to figure out how to manipulate the Dauntless to take over
against the Abnegation Faction, designed to be what we would have called a
military coup. But Beatrice isn’t too
worried about all that at first. Instead,
she’s more concerned about the dramatic public event where every 16-year-old
declares which “Faction” they will pledge allegiance to, and leave their
parents’ home to do it (“Faction Before Blood”).
Well, Beatrice is troubled because she
feels some affinity for all the factions, and realizes that choosing one
necessarily suppresses the tendencies toward the others.
OK, for all of you folks out there wondering what appeal any of this
might have for teenage girls, this is the identification part:
Beatrice is placed in a bewildering, vaguely hostile world not of her
own making and forced to make difficult decisions about how she will direct
her energies when she still doesn’t really know herself well enough yet.
Kind of like high schoolers these days scrambling to choose colleges on
the basis of areas of study concentration, when they’re really not sure yet
where their interests lie, and don’t really want to make self-limiting
decisions like that, but somehow feel forced to do it, anyway.
And of course, all this time, those hormones are awakening, also, which
sometimes trumps all rational considerations.
Beatrice, forced to choose, finally
selects Dauntless, but the training regimen is immediate, harsh, and brutal.
Worse, those who don’t do well in the “training” are summarily
dismissed, which means forced to be “non-aligned,” that is, hovering
around trash heaps looking for food scraps. (Yes,
the implication is clear that anybody who doesn’t mount the serious career
track is doomed to minimum wage hopelessness.)
Yes, “Tris” (as she’s re-named herself) finds courage within
herself, but also discovers she’s somewhat “Divergent” (that is, having
capabilities spanning several Factions, but that seems to threaten the Powers
That Be somehow), and she also falls in love with her instructor (he’ll also
be useful later).
Yes, it’s a cautionary morality tale
wrapped in a teenage romance, but the actors are good enough to make it
believable and even somewhat suspenseful. Prepare
for the inevitable sequels.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Minister, St.
Stephen’s Presbyterian Church,