‘Divergent’ An Interesting Film With Plot Holes


I thought Divergent was a pretty decent film. There were many inherent weaknesses, but there was enough interesting action to keep the audience engaged. Based on a bestselling series of books by Veronica Roth, it is set in a post-apocalyptic Chicago. People are divided into five cliques, each one an emotional state that is completely emphasized, overwhelming all other feelings. Unless, of course, you are “divergent.”

There are five basic factions: Erudite (intellectual), Candor (honest), Amity (kind, friendly), Dauntless (courageous) and Abnegation (selfless). Abnegation is in charge, presumably because those who live a simple life helping others would be an ideal ruling group. Erudite, however, wants to take over. Young people are forced to choose one of the groups at a large ceremony and, once they have chosen, may never change their minds. The slogan used is “Faction Over Family.”

Beatrice (Shailene Woodley), the daughter of leading Abnegants, is a divergent: She is part Abnegant, part Erudite and part Dauntless. She chooses Dauntless and goes through a long, although fascinating, initiation period. Much of the movie focuses on the way initiates learn to be full members. Under the stern eye of Four (Theo James), a tough but caring tutor, Tris, as she now styles herself, becomes a warrior. These scenes are among the best in the movie.

But then politics rears its ugly head. There are rumors spread that the leaders of Abnegation are abusive, all of which leads to a revolt by Erudite, using mind control over most of Dauntless. Tris and Four lead a small band that stops a genocidal killing spree, but they become factionless… leading to the inevitable sequel.

There are several problems with the story. The first is that there is no reasonable explanation for dividing the population the way they have, and certainly no reason why people should not be allowed to change. In some ways, it is a reversion to the old “nature vs. nurture” argument over whether our genes or experiences determine who we are. The leader of Erudite, the rather nasty Jeanine Matthews (Kate Winslet), freely admits that it is against human nature, but argues that human nature is almost always wrong. This argument, often used by some intellectuals, assumes that those with more education always know best, something that might well be argued. On top of that, it seems that Tris’s parents have managed to change their affiliation, although this is not explained.

A second flaw is that just too much of the plot is taken from other films. This movie borrows from Harry Potter (ceremonially choosing factions), Total Recall and Inception (use of drugs to get inside people’s brains), and possibly tips a nod to zombie movies, as well as even Planet of the Apes (post-Apocalyptic world), not to mention a whole genre of teen movies where kids break up into cliques in which they have to prove themselves to join.

Of course, there are also the clichés: the villains are really villainous, ready to commit genocide. The leader of the training, Eric (Jai Courtney), is a sadistic meanie shown to be a fake. Another problem is that somehow we are expected to believe that several of the women, who are rather small, can take on trained men nearly a hundred pounds heavier in nasty fighting.

The cast is pretty good. Woodley is good in the action, handles the drama well and fits the mold of an average girl who, through heroic efforts, wins over the good-looking guy. James is a particularly good action hero: very tough, good-looking in a masculine way, yet able to show a real sensitive side. Winslet, Ashley Judd and Tony Goldwyn (as the parents of Tris) are also good in smaller roles.

The action scenes are what carries the movie, and they are many and varied. It could have been terribly boring watching a long series of training sequences, but they are what makes the movie come to life and help us identify with Tris.

I am frustrated by the number of young adult bestsellers turned into movies that are either into the supernatural or are dystopic. Years ago, young people seemed to expect hope in their future. Now, they seem to see either horrible futures dominated by a ruling elite or hope through some sort of dealings with super-beings. I could try to be profound about that, but I might start crying. At any rate, this is a decent, not great, action film. There is a lot of violence and a chilling genocidal scene near the end. But it kept me interested and involved throughout.