Divergent review

Review Sarah Dobbs 21 Mar 2014 - 11:33

Another young adult novel - Divergent - makes its way to cinemas, but do we really need to worry about another bizarre dystopian future?

What were you like when you were 16? Most of us, if we’re honest, were probably pretty horrible as teenagers. We thought we knew better than our parents and teachers, but at the same time, we were terrified we didn’t know anything at all. We thought we were invincible, while being scared of all sorts of unknown things. It’s an awkward in-between kind of age, because you’re not really a child any more, but you’re still a long way off being an adult. So being forced to make a massive decision that will completely define the rest of your life at that age seems pretty mean. But that’s how the dystopian, post-apocalyptic world of Divergent arranges itself, and as a result, it doesn’t make an awful lot of sense.

In the ruins of Chicago, supposedly the only city to survive a terrible war, society has been split into five factions, each of which represents a different attribute and represents a slightly different way of life. There’s Abnegation, the selfless ones; Erudite, the clever ones; Dauntless, the brave ones; Amity, the peaceful ones; and Candour, the honest ones. Soon after they turn 16, all the teens in Chicago have to choose a faction. Well, first they have to undergo a test, which involves being strapped into a device that can read their thoughts and being injected with a drug that makes them hallucinate. Then they’re told which faction they fit into, though they’re still technically free to choose a different one in an elaborate bloodletting ritual held in front of the entire city.

Confused yet? It’s a lot of information to take in, and Divergent hammers it home by explaining everything first through a voiceover and then through a series of boringly repetitive conversations. What it doesn’t explain, though, is why the world is set up like this, and how it could possibly work. Each faction supposedly has a purpose to serve in the world – Amity are farmers, for example, while Dauntless act like a really annoying version of the military – but there seem to be a lot of social functions left undone. Plus, despite the claim that these factions have been set up to keep the peace and prevent any further wars, it’s glaringly obvious that the system doesn’t work, and the factions don’t get on.

I might be over-explaining the movie’s premise here, but Divergent is all explanation and very little story. Our way into the world is Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley), a conflicted teen who isn’t sure where she fits into a world that’s obsessed with conformity. Despite being told to trust the test, her results are inconclusive, leaving her to pick her future for herself – while simultaneously trying to hide the fact that she’s, dun dun dun, Divergent. After picking one, she has to push her mind and body to breaking point to prove herself worthy of a place in the system, only to uncover a massive conspiracy that threatens to rip the factions apart completely. Oh, and there’s a hot-but-mean guy she falls in love with along the way, too.

All the young adult beats are present and correct; it’s hard not to notice, specifically, the bits that mirror plot points from The Hunger Games, while the aptitude test could easily be replaced with Harry Potter’s Sorting Hat. Vast chunks of the world building also seem to have been nicked from Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, although all the sex has been stripped out. But while the references are easy to pick up on, it’s not quite so easy to figure out what Divergent is trying to say about all of this. It’s clear that the way their society is set up isn’t working, but difficult to see why anyone, at any point in time, might have thought it would. The characteristics that supposedly separate people aren’t mutually exclusive, and there’s no reason you’d want them to be – why would you deliberately encourage clever people not to be brave, or brave people not to be kind? The divisions make about as much sense as asking a child who their favourite Power Ranger is, or their favourite member of One Direction, and divvying up the world accordingly.

It’d be one thing if the politics in the movie were making a point about the politics of the world we live in, but while it’s possible to draw a couple of morals from the events of the film, they’re not very coherent. It seems like the idea is that it’s more important to be an individual than part of a tribe, except being Divergent is better than any of the others. Violence is bad, except when it’s cool. Selflessness is good but boring, and cleverness isn’t to be trusted. But jumping off moving trains is the awesomest thing anyone could ever do.

The further into Divergent you get, the more perplexing it is. It doesn’t help that, despite Shailene Woodley’s best efforts, Tris is a complete blank slate. The plot hinges on her getting to know her true self, but she hasn’t got much to work with. It’s hard to identify with her when she’s just an empty space. The other characters don’t fare much better, either; Theo James pulls a series of intense faces as the daftly named love interest Four, but his backstory is so generic it might as well not exist, while Miles Teller is almost completely wasted in the Draco Malfoy role. Even Kate Winslet can’t do much to imbue her character with much in the way of inner life. And without characters to draw you in and bring their bizarre world to life, all you’re left with is an incomprehensibly messy made-up world that’s neither appealing in a cosy Hogwarts-y way nor a believably frightening dystopia a la District 12. It’s all just a bit pointless, really.

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I feel dirty, like I need some dun dun DUN!!! Detergent.

Hmm I haven't been expecting much from this film ever since I saw the trailer, I'd heard a lot of buzz about it but I guess it just isn't my thing. I do think this review is really poor though, it doesn't give us any positives from the film yet it gives the film two stars as opposed to one. And it seems like the writer spent most of the paragraphs talking about the plot, and just the last paragraph about actual characters or actors.

Well, it does state quite clearly in the review that, in the writer's opinion, there isn't really any characterization and the actors don't have much to work with, so it stands to reason that most of what's covered would focus on plot. It wasn't like it was just a dry rundown of plot points either - many of them were examined and critiqued in a way I'd expect from a decent review.

Saying the review is "really poor" is unnecessary. I think it's a fair and objective piece that covers all it needs to. It's obvious that the reviewer doesn't rate the movie very highly but, at the same time, has elucidated why this is, without just doing a total hatchet job (which is all too easy when you watch a crap movie).

I enjoyed the book, I was left bereft of a dystopian future after I finished the uh get games trilogy and this bridged the gap nicely before I discovered Scott westerfields 'uglies'

*after I finished the hunger games that is

Sadly this movie is going to fail because the third book in Roth's trilogy was very badly received.

teenagers always feel different. they are the beautiful and unique snowflake that nobody understands, forging a new path through life determined to show the world that they are going to do great things, and do them in a different way than the establishment (otherwise known as parents) could ever hope to do.

What teenagers don't realise is that ALL of them feel this way. how many times have you been in a public place and heard teenagers having a conversation that you remember having at their age? they dress the same, rebel the same, feel the same, act the same. and yet feel unique.

so when I saw the trailer for this movie in the cinema a while ago it was glaringly obvious that someone had written a story around that teenage yearning to be unique, and created a protagonist who is literally defying the world by being so. It is like targeting a movie at blokes and calling it "tits and explosions". Granted those movies do exist, but they are hardly as obvious and unsubtle as Divergent. Are they?

I love how this review really acurately describes the teen spirit. I hate that these days teen spirit is so hyped and made into something it defintiely isn't. Teenagers aren't heroes or anything close. They're incredibly selfish and cruel brats that don't know their place in the world yet. And yes that describes me as a teen pretty accuratley as well.

Love your short analysis. Divergent is pretty much as obvious a fan service film as hopefully we'll ever get.

Yeah it will flop if they use the third book, it would be better to change it all. What gets me is the 'death serum' which is commonly known around the world as poison.

I agree with you to an extent but why don't we push teens harder? I knew what I wanted to do with my life and went to uni after getting in at sixteen and starting at seventeen in nursing. I'm seriously glad that I did that because I achieved something and when my friends were doing A2's and skipping college I was working fourteen hours a day with people close to death.

No one ever refused me as a nurse despite my age I can assure you. It takes a certain mindset to do and instincts that can't be taught, it's odd how I found that out.

Simply using 'death serum' and not poison makes that book a joke.

"So being forced to make a massive decision that will completely define the rest of your life at that age seems pretty mean." Yeah, that's how we felt in the first year of G.C.S.E.s back in '88. :D

This review really annoys me. Mostly because it's fairly hypocritical. With all these superhero movies it's easy to draw comparisons from each of them. Let's compare batman and iron man, both from two different studios. In their simplest form, they are both are men who are rich playboys who use their money to create suits and stop the bad-guys. I realise that this is going to anger so many people (i am posting this on a website for comic book fans after all) and I am in no way saying that either of these films are bad or are carbon copies of each other, but they are strikingly similar in some aspects. It really doesn't matter where you draw your inspiration from, it just matters where you go from there, and having read both The Hunger Games Trilogy and the Divergent trilogy, I believe they go in completely different directions.

I also don't like the condescending tone that comes across in your review. Yes this is a book for teens, there is no denying that, but adults can enjoy it, too, if they would let themselves. Because it's for teens, you discard it for any deeper meaning behind it all, but trust me, there is one. No, you won't be able to write a 10 page essay on the themes and messages that Divergent is trying to put across, but there is something to take away from it. If you don't like it, then fine, but please don't patronise people for liking what they like. It's just a dick move.

Another thing that annoys me is the line "What it doesn’t explain, though, is why the world is set up like this, and how it could possibly work." This is hardly your fault for not knowing this, after all you aren't fully told until book 3, but there IS a reason as to why it is in this set up, and the conspiracy is sort of hinted at, but not enough for people who haven't read the books to notice. This isn't your fault, its the fault of the film for not explaining it, it's just frustrating for you to insult the book when it does explain it. I don't want to be one of those fans who say that 'you have to read the book', but you can't really complain about the movie revealing the big plot twist in the first film.

I can understand why you can dislike this film, as it is in no way perfect. Divergent is not original. It is not supposed to revolutionise the way you think. But once again I bring up the Superhero genre of films can you say any of them were purely original and had no influence on one another? This is probably a not very well structured argument and I have no idea why I am writing this instead of studying, but it's just some of my opinions that I'd like at least one person to read (even if they do respond with abuse).

I saw the film yesterday and as a fan of the book I was bitterly disappointed. To be honest, I went in with low expectations after the film adaptation of one of my other favourite books (City of Bones) failed to please me last August. I thought the cast were completely wrong apart from Kate Winslet (but then again, she could fit into any role) and some key characters had been left out. My friend who hadn't read the book was very confused at what was happening which also isn't a good thing. This had the potential to be a great film but unfortunately it wasn't.

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