Veronica Roth’s wildly popular youth novels about a dystopian future in the ruins of Chicago were converted into a highly successful movie (“Divergent,” 2014) and now the sequel.  You can see why Hollywood loves these:  it’s all about celebrating our diversity, and following your own path, regardless of what they tell you that you ought to be doing.  Yes, the main themes play right into Hollywood ’s persistent agenda.  So of course we’re going to make these productions as slick and believable as we can, despite the science fiction trappings, and feature some of our best young “A” list stars.  It’s so creative that it almost works.  But it’s just too hopeless, violent, humorless, and arrogant to appeal to us mainstream moviegoers.  There’s neither charm nor elegance here.  And certainly no cute or endearing.

            The good news is that this sequel can be successfully viewed without having seen the original, although there is plenty of reference to what has happened before.  The world consists of a ruined Chicago , with a big electric, impassable wall around it.  The buildings are in ruins.  And so is the society, which seems to be pretty much a Fascist dictatorship run by a tight-lipped middle-aged woman, Jeanine (Kate Winslett), with off-the-charts control issues.  All citizens must be divided into Factions:  Abnegation (for the selfless), Amity (for the peaceful), Candor (for the honest), Dauntless (for the brave), and Erudite (for the intellectual).  No doubt you good Presbyterian readers have noticed that there is no category for “spiritual” or “religious”.  There is no “higher being” here; there is no worship; and what they don’t realize is that that’s a big part of the problem:  the false idols of unquestioning governmental loyalty and artificial personality division are much too flimsy to be sustainable by anyone with half a brain, which, it seems, some of the young people have, but nobody listens to them.  (Ah, the arrogance of youth.)

            The heroine is Tris (Shailene Woodley), who is 100% Divergent, meaning that she can easily move between all the Factions, and therefore can’t be exclusive to any of them.  The government is after her because she’s a menace to their system, but also because with her unique personality, she holds the only key to opening the 200-year-old message of the “Founders” (imagine Thomas Jefferson leaving us an encrypted Skype message).  Tris has befriended Four (Theo James), and they’ve been hiding in the Amity camp, until they’re discovered, and then the governmental bounty hunter, Eric (Jai Courtney) comes after them with a vengeance.  (The Amity, led by the barely-conflicted Octavia Spencer, are dreadfully unprepared to defend themselves, assuming that to be beneath their dignity.  Think Neville Chamberlain in 1938, believing he’d made peace with Hitler by letting him grab territory without a fight.)

            It turns out that Four has a secret of his own:  the leader of the factionless rebel group is none other than his own Mom, Evelyn (Naomi Watts), who abandoned him to lead her anarchist band (why so many angry women at the helm?).  But can this unlikely alliance free Tris from the clutches of the Evil Empire?  It seems only the Insurgent can rescue the Divergent.


Questions for Discussion:

1)      The hologram from The Founder looks like an angel message, directing the weary inhabitants toward a blissful reunion outside the bleak walls of their world.  How is this similar to the promise of the coming Kingdom of God ?

2)      Which bible characters could easily be categorized using the five Factions? (Samson as Dauntless, Samuel as Amity, Nathaniel as Candor, etc.)

3)      Could this be interpreted as a parable about accepting  the sexual “factions” of LGBTQ?


Dr. Ronald P. Salfen is the Supply Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Kaufman , Texas