On Monday night I finally saw “Divergent”. To write a review of this movie is kind of complicated. How can one separate the story from the performances? Well, I’ll try.
I’ll start with the positive. I like the story. The world that is created in “Divergent” is different enough from other dystopian stories to stand on its own. I think like all dystopian tales there is a certain amount of realism taken to the extreme in this story. In the world of “Divergent” people are divided into factions: Abnegation, for the selfless; Amity, for the peaceful; Candor, for the honest; Dauntless, for the brave; and Erudite, for the Intelligent. I found this interesting. At the end of the day isn’t our society divided into various factions? Aren’t the jobs we go to everyday kind of assigning us to one of these roles?
In the world of “Divergent” sixteen year olds take a test which is supposed to tell them what faction they belong in (in a way isn’t this kind of like the sorting hat in Harry Potter?), but when it comes time to choose each person can choose what faction they want to spend the rest of their life in. Most children end up in the faction that they are born into. Once again isn’t this like the world we live in. We go to school from ages 5 to 18 and that is supposed to tell us where we are supposed to go in life, we are given the choice to decide where we are going to spend our lives but at the end of the day don’t most people end up following the path of their parents and their parents before them and their parents before them?
What is interesting in “Divergent” is that the main character Beatrice, later known as Tris, fails to fall into any faction based on her test, hence the name divergence. It seems that in the world of “Divergent” people who are individuals and don’t fit into a box are a treat. Why does sound familiar? For all of our emphasis on individually doesn’t our society today reward those who conform? Aren’t people who look, act, dress and most of all think differently seen as a threat? Doesn’t it freak the status quo out when people choose not to get married or have kids or work a nine to five job?
After Beatrice tests as Divergent she is forced to pick a faction without the guidance of the test. She picks Dauntless because she alwayslooked up to them when she was growing up. As the story progresses we get to see her initiation into Dauntless. It is basically like basic training and if you don’t make the cut you end up factionless. Once again there is a parallel to our world. Aren’t the factionless supposed to be like our homeless? The story is kind of saying that if you don’t follow what is expected of you will end up on the fringes of society; left without a home and an identity. What I can’t decide is if the story is reinforcing this message or challenging it?
I liked seeing the challenges that Tris has to face to become a member of Dauntless. I was also left wondering what the challenges would be for the young men and women who ended up choosing a different faction. Sure it’s thrilling to see the tests of the brave but I would also like to see the tests of the selfless, the peaceful, the honest and the intelligent.
The conflict of the story comes with a grab for power. In the world of “Divergent” Abnegation runs the government. However, there is talk of corruption among that faction and Erudite, the intelligent, looks to be making a move to take over the government with the help of a brainwashed Dauntless.
Again, I found the story interesting. However, I was left wondering if the story was anti-intellectual. After all it’s the evil Erudite who make a play for power.
I found the ending of the movie to be a little sloppy but I have enough interest in seeing what will happen next that I’ll see the sequel.
Now the not so good things…
When I saw “The Hunger Games” it made me want to read the books, because I didn’t want to wait until the next movie to find out what happens next. When I walked out of “Divergent” I didn’t feel the same way. As much as I found the story intriguing I had serious issues with the casting of the movies.
Prior to this movie I had only Shailene Woodley in “The Decedents”. While I didn’t think that she gave a bad performance in that movie I couldn’t understand why there was (forced) Oscar buzz around her. She didn’t do anything special. I was even less impressed with her in this movie. I like that these YA franchises are giving young women the lead roles but you need a truly powerful and charismatic actress to carry a film like “Divergent” and Shailene Woodley is not it. She is a very plain looking actress, not ugly by any means but not beautiful, but she doesn’t compensate for that plainness with any real charisma or acting talent. She was far too passive to play Tris.
In “The Hunger Games” I was left feeling kind of blah for Liam Hemsworth. However, Theo James so bland, devoid of talent, charisma and good looks that I was left wishing I had Liam Hemsworth on screen.
When “Titanic” came out a friend of mine said that the story would have sucked without Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio. I disagreed then and I disagree now. The story is the story it doesn’t change based on the casting. However, bad casting can really take you out of the movie going experience. As I mentioned I like the story and find the parallels to real life interesting but the two lead actors are so bland that I couldn’t help but constantly wonder what casting hack was put in charge of this movie. When you consider how many aspiring twenty something actors are out there I can’t believe these two were the best for the movie.
Speaking of Kate Winslet she is fine in her very small role. She doesn’t over play it which is nice. I like placidity in which she plays the villain; it’s a much more interesting route to take than scenery chewing.
Throughout the movie I pondered who would have been a best casting choice to play Tris. Late in the movie I realized the answer was in the movie itself. The perfect Tris would have been Ashley Judd twenty years ago. Judd’s role is very small but she is given a couple moments where she shines and makes Woodley look small in her shadow.
I have serious issues with what happens to Judd’s character but I won’t reveal what that is (it doesn’t take much to see it coming). I envision an adult version of “Divergent” where Judd kicks ass and takes names but that won’t ever happen. Judd is past her prime which is why she’s playing the mom.
I’m glad I saw “Divergent”. I have an idea for a dystopian novel so in a way I wound consider it research. However, if you haven’t seen it on the big screen yet you can probably wait for DVD. At the end of the day because of the bad casting it’s no Hunger Games.