There is definitely an audience for Divergent. Fourteen year old girls, in particular, will likely adore the entire two and a half hour running time. Everyone else will fall into two distinct camps: those who recognize the lunacy of the premise and quickly start mentally balancing their checkbooks, and those who recognize the lunacy of the premise and quickly start sending mental hate mail to the screenwriter. I found myself shocked and dismayed for vast portions of the film due to the utter ridiculousness of the world Divergent inhabits. There is nothing that anyone with a basic grasp of logic will be able to cling on to and the filmmakers make no effort to elevate the material above the very young audience they are aiming to please.
The story of Divergent takes place sometime in the unspecified future after a war of some kind has apparently wiped out most of civilization. After this war society has divided up into five factions: Abnegation- the selfless humanitarians, Erudite- the smart people, Amity- farmers, Candor- people compelled to speak the truth at all times, and Dauntless- goth-lite parkour experts who serve as security. There is a giant ceremony where teenagers must decide which faction they are going to live with for the rest of their lives. If a child decides to join a faction other than the one in which they were raised they will never be able to see their family again. It is not explained why. To help in their decision a test is administered that will tell them what faction for which they are best suited. This is where our lead character Tris encounters a problem. She tests as having more than one personality trait. She is a divergent and must hide that fact because if people find out they will immediately kill her.
Tris decides to join the Dauntless because no one would want to watch a movie about the other factions. It is there that she is trained with the worst fighting style known to man and is basically bullied and abused for a good hour of the film’s running time. The movie would like you to believe that being beaten will make you brave. I do not share that belief. During the training and Dauntless initiation Tris falls madly in love with her instructor Four. Yes, his name is Four. The latter part of the film revolves around Tris trying to survive initiation, while hiding the fact that she is divergent, while coyly trying to entice Four, while uncovering a super-secret plot to possibly kill an entire faction. If you’re still following along I applaud your resolve. If this plot sounds interesting you may wish to reexamine the levels of masochism you enjoy.
It is an immense credit to both Shailene Woodley and Theo James, as Tris and Four respectively, that they deliver performances that are not cringe worthy. The same cannot be said of the rest of the cast. Miles Teller does pop up for a few moments at the beginning to play an annoying bully and then disappears until the plot requires him again at the end. Ashley Judd, Tony Goldwyn, Mekhi Phifer, and Kate Winslet all show up in varying degrees in this film in what I can only assume is a plan to stay culturally relevant. The direction from Neil Burger is mediocre to competent and at the very least isn’t distracting, although he brings very little to the table in terms of style. There is also a soundtrack that heavily features Ellie Goulding which may be the highlight of the film.
I’m finding very little else to say about the film because every time I try to think back to the visual elements I am reminded of how they relate to the plot and I am back to mentally berating the script. The most effective dystopian future movies all feature plots that seem like logical extensions of some version of our world. Whether it be Blade Runner or Mad Max it is possible to see how events could have changed the world we know into the world depicted on screen. Divergent asks us to forget what we know about the world we live in and then go ahead and forget what we know about human behavior as well. I would like to forget what I know about this movie. Grade: D+