T raveled a different path than the one where I’m entertained.

T he future still bites? Awwwwwww. Is it too much to ask for our collective human potential not to suck ass, consistently? Yes, I suppose it is. The latest I-owe-my-cinematic-existence-to-Hunger-Games version of our screwed lives-to-be is called Divergent. It’s set in a version of Chicago where the buildings still stand, but are broken – this one has broken windows, that one missing an entire east wing, this one sells *gasp* regular pizza!

The survivors live in compounds at the city limit outskirts and have divided themselves accordingly: Erudite for them smart folks, Abnegation for the selfless, Dauntless for the X-Gamers, Amity for the hippies and Candor for the assholes. Amity and Candor are like the Hufflepuff houses of the Divergent world. Seriously, you breed people for Candor? I mean, that’s useful for about five seconds and then, dude, let me be candid: you gotta go. I was led to believe that all the people in the society were covered, but apparently there’s a big group who don’t get a tribe. (There’s something worse than hippie?)  We’re supposed to feel sorry for the unhoused, but I didn’t. Far as I can tell, they’re free. Chicago’s been abandoned? Go! Live. Screw the rest. Pick a house, any house. You even have a mass transit system still in place. Sure, thanks to stupid Dauntless, the trains literally don’t stop, like, ever.  Still, go, be free; live high class and scavenge like Will Smith in I Am Legend.

I digress; the story isn’t about Will Smith. It’s about the choosing of houses and a power struggle between Erudite and Abnegation. Abnegation is the ruling class, you see, because they only live to serve. It seems right on paper, but I’m skeptical that the selfless would ever get to power in any world. And, oh yes — the threat to the peace in this world: Divergents (i.e. people who fit into more than one category). This part bugs me a bit. You deliberately bred confidence without intelligence, selflessness without intelligence, intelligence without kindness. Huh.

Let me be perfectly clear: Here’s a society where there’s a group of intellectuals defined, among other things, by their lack of selflessness? Yeah, that’s not a bad idea at all. They also are bred to eschew candor and fearlessness, huh? Wait, I know this one. We have this now – a group of cowardly, two-faced, dishonest, manipulative, selfish intellectuals Hell-bent on political dominance at all costs? Why, that’s Fox News! Can’t think think of an easier parallel in life.

Well, there was a movie here, too. A long movie. It’s about Tris (Shailene Woodley) an Abnegation-bred teen who has to take the house test and comes up … Divergent! Oh no! The test itself is pretty good from a movie history POV. It’s mostly dream-related; they strap her into the Total Recall chair and then she pictures scenarios. Among these, Tris actually mirrors a slightly-off doppelgänger, immediately reminding me of Harpo and Groucho Marx in Duck Soup. Worth note that this unintentional laugh was the biggest in the film.

Hiding her Divergence, Tris selects Dauntless at the Sorting Hat meeting and then we get two hours of the drill sergeant routine. Future?  Sci-fi?  High tech?  The more things change … from Private Benjamin to Starship Troopers, I never tire of grunts being treated like grunts. Seriously, the army training-to-make-the-cut scenes are far too long, but happily explain the bloated 140 minute runtime. Erudite bigwig Kate Winslet dropsDivergent2 in and out to revisit Jodie Foster’s Elysium role and remind us she’s in the movie; it’s not just about the burgeoning love of Tris and Four (Theo James), is it?

Divergent is a social comment on either being wary or not being wary of those who aren’t easy to label. Any society threatened by the multi-talented Bo Jacksons of the world will probably have issues on its hands – and the danger inherent within an easily bifurcated group is obvious. This film often comes off as an attack on communism and other types of compartmentalized big brother governments. Such is reinforced by Divergent’s power struggle at the top. But I think it serves better on a micro level as understanding that friends, students, employees are better served when we acknowledge them as entire persons and not just their respective fortes. Or it would, were the film better. It isn’t.

In a future divide into cliques
There’s a coed of many tricks
Choosing the action
To get satisfaction
For a society in need of a fix

Rated PG-13, 139 Minutes
D: Neil Burger
W: Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor
Genre: More of our dystopian future
Type of person most likely to enjoy this film: Desperate Hunger Games addicts
Type of person least likely to enjoy this film: Desperate Hunger Games addicts

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3 Responses to “Divergent” Subscribe

  1. Punxsutawney Phil March 31, 2014 at 9:21 am #

    I imagine the actual meeting of faction leaders going something like this.

    Erudite: “Hey Dauntless, if you help us take the power from Abnegation, we’ll let you be #2.”
    Abnegation: “Uh, guys, we’re Abnegation. We’ll just let you be the leaders if you want.”
    Dauntless: “Actually, we have all the weapons and the soldiers, so I think we’ll take over instead, thanks anyway.”

    But I guess that movie would last about as long as the Canadian Breaking Bad.

  2. Jane Austen March 31, 2014 at 4:18 pm #

    Everything in this review applies to the book, too, which was a thin “Hunger Games” wannabee. There were holes in the author’s world-building you could drive a truck through.

  3. Jim April 2, 2014 at 10:28 pm #

    Good stuff, my homies.

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