2014-03-27 / Around Town


Disappointing ‘Divergent’
By Patricia Lacouture

The basic premise behind “Divergent,” that the individual is valued only as a clearly–defined part of the collective, goes against the very grain of the American paradigm. Emerson and Thoreau saw the free spirit as something crucial to our way of life, and even the Westerns of the 1950s offered John Wayne as the archetypal hero–a lone rider who could clean up the most debauched prairie town. These are ideals embraced by our people and are part of our national psyche.

Shailene Woodley and Zoë Kravitz in Divergent an action/adventure/sci-fi film, rated pg-13. Shailene Woodley and Zoë Kravitz in Divergent an action/adventure/sci-fi film, rated pg-13. “Divergent” begins with a foundation that speaks deeply to our cultural dream–that each individual is valued as a unique person with an inimitable spirit, accompanied by life goals that defy any sort of communal dictates.

Spinning off this most American dream, “Divergent” is a tale in which that model has fallen by the wayside in a futuristic culture. The individual still has value, but only as long as she/he conforms to a set system of mores and behaviors.

The story hinges on a test every citizen must take at age 16. They are wired to a machine that reveals one’s innermost thoughts, desires and aspirations, and each person must clearly fit into one – and only one – of five categories: Abnegation (the selfless), Erudite (intellectuals), Dauntless (fearless warriors), Candor (relentless truth-tellers), and Amity (friendly earth-tillers). When young Beatrice (Shailene Woodley), aka Tris, takes her test, the exam administrator is shocked. Beatrice fits no one category; she fits three. This makes her a “divergent,” one without a singular identity and one who can throw off the balance in a tightly-controlled post-Apocalyptic world.

If you can’t be defined, you can’t be herded, controlled, or manipulated – and that makes every divergent a danger. They must be eliminated.

I like the spirit of the film, a reminder that we should never take our individual freedoms for granted lest they vanish, but the movie is lackluster.

The physical world of “Divergent” is without a clear sense of definition. It’s part cyber-punk and part post-Apocalyptic – edgy, dark, a bit claustrophobic, and with a paucity of creature comforts. The film seems devoid of logic in any present, near past, or future arena. Granted, we are supposedly living in a post-industrial, technological era, but this film offers a world of thinkers, do-gooders, warriors and farmers. The “simple folk” live in simple villages, but how do the villages get built? No architects exist, as far as we know, nor do builders of homes, hospitals or infrastructure. Railroads operate; they look dated for 1,000 years from now, but they are neither rusted nor dilapidated. How, exactly, do these fastmoving trains, without conductors, run? This film abounds with unanswered riddles.

This movie, despite the abundance of spilled blood, feels anemic and pulseless. It has the requisite teen romance, great sparring matches, underground culture, and heroic characters. But it still fails to live up to the hype and too often feels predictable and formulaic.

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