Friday, March 21, 2014

Film Review: Divergent

"Divergent"  *** (out of ****)

The setting is Chicago, sometime in the distant future. There has been a great war, which has nearly destroyed civilization as we know it. In order to rebuild itself the world is now divided into five factions. Those factions are Abnegation, who represent the selfless, they govern this new world. Next there is Dauntless, they represent the brave, Erudite, who represent intellect, Candor, which represents honesty and finally Amity, which stands for peace. This is the world presented to us in "Divergent" (2014)

The way this new society works is individuals are given an aptitude test which will determined which of these five factions they will belong to. Once you join a faction you can never change. These rules sometimes separate families if one of the members scores differently on the test. If this happens you are not allowed to visit your family. The motto of the society is factions before blood.

The underlying theme of "Divergent" is individualism. The world showcased here is one based on conformity. The population must be labeled. Citizens must fall into a group. Those that do not conform are considered a danger. They are know as "divergent" - free thinkers who will not conform. They defy labels.

This way of thinking is with us now. In our society we need to label others. First we start of with the basics. Male or female. Old or young. Tall or short. But then we get a little more complex. Kind or cruel. Intelligent or not. Democrat or Republican. We are constantly ready to fit people into boxes. This helps us identify people. Once we label them we know what to expect from them. They live up to their reputation. This is especially true in our politically divided country we live in.

What ultimately hurts "Divergent" is it takes this serious theme and then fuses it with a love story. "Divergent" becomes another "Twilight" series for young girls to gawk at guys and watch a cheesy love story. Too bad. When a movie has ideas and wants to be about something but then has to push aside those ideas in order to become more "marketable". The romance is what made Veronica Roth's novel popular. The romance is what will get people into the seats. And the theatre I saw this movie at was nearly sold out with young teenage girls eagerly awaiting for the movie to start.

In "Divergent" we follow Tris (Shailene Wooley) and her family; Natalie her mother (Ashley Judd), Andrew her father (Tony Goldwyn) and Caleb her brother (Ansel Elgort). They are Abnegation. Tris and Caleb have now reached the age where they must take the aptitude test to find out what their destiny is. Will they remain Abnegation or are they meant for something else?

When Tris takes her test she discovers she is divergent. At first she does not understand what this means and the reaction she will face from the rest of society. All she knows is she must not reveal being divergent to anyone.

Tris joins the Dauntless and there develops a crush on one of her instructors, Four (Theo James) who senses Tris is not like the other recruits, one of whom includes Peter (Miles Teller, who co-starred in last year's "The Spectacular Now" (2013) also with Woodley).

Without revealing too much, secret government plots are discovered. It is up to Tris to correct these things and bring true harmony to this new world.

Some have compared this movie to "The Hunger Game" novels and movies. Both revolve around young woman put in extreme situations. Both movies also touch on social and political themes and don't fully follow through with them.

The movie was directed by Neil Burger, best known for "The Illusionist" (2006) and "Limitless" (2011). The movie feels like a big budget Hollywood production. You don't sense there was a director behind this. A personal vision is not presented. The movie is overwhelmed by the effects and budget.

The target audience will enjoy "Divergent". It is a welcome surprise that the movie has ideas and wants to make a commentary but one wishes the movie had dropped the love story. Shorten the running time (the movie is over two hours) and focus more on the social commentary. Then "Divergent" would have been something to recommend. As it is now, it is a light, mass audience tale of forbidden love.