The Plot: Sometime in the future, humanity decides that the world will be a better place if there are only five types of people in it:
- cerebral, brainy types
- flower-power hippie gardeners
- out of control, extreme sport loving hooligans…with guns
- self-denying do-gooders
- people who think it’s their job to say whatever they want to people, no matter how annoying.
Divergent is the story of what happens when it turns out that someone doesn’t fit neatly into one of these personality types (labeled “divergents”), and the lengths that such a world will go to to crush anyone who threatens their sense of order. This is a world that cannot tolerate anyone who is good at both reading and base jumping, and such abominations must not be allowed.
But then, before that gets going too far, a bunch of societal leaders decide that they don’t actually like the self denying do-gooders either, and hatch an absolutely wacky plan (that involves drugging their entire army) to wipe out 1/5 of their population. But at the same time, they still want to kill of the “divergents” as well. Because it seems that both the Divergents and the self-denying do-gooders both threaten the world’s sense of order in equal measure.
What was my response to the film? Well, upon first viewing, it was something like this:
OK, this is pretty good, well directed science fiction teen-focused dystopia story, about a reasonably engaging world and someone who doesn’t fit in, that is surprisingly “complete” at the end – with room for sequels, but as if they weren’t sure they would get one.
Then I read a bit about it on the internet, and found that the general consensus is that the movie is a bit of a rip-off of The Hunger Games.
Now, of course, I had noticed the similarities, but there are some key differences as well. In The Hunger Games, everyone knows the situation they are living in is terrible. They just can’t do anything about it. In Divergent, the dystopian elements are more insidious, not clearly seen by the population. In that sense, The Hunger Games is only a “dystopia” story to the same degree that, say, Star Wars is a dystopia story—they are both about helpless nobodies who become key in the battle against an overly-powerful oppressive force. Divergent reads more like 1984, the early episodes of Blake’s 7, Jasper Fforde’s Shades of Grey (no, not that other one), or The Giver (which of course was also just made into a movie, but was a book earlier). The connection with The Hunger Games is really just that it’s about a young girl becoming a hero against an oppressive science fiction regime led by a famous actor, and that it’s based on a series of young adult novels – which, admittedly, might be enough to warrant the criticism.
Later, I spoke to my friend, and she commented (paraphrased): Hey, why are the Erudite people evil, just because they like to read? I like to read! That doesn’t mean I’m evil! (This comment, appropriately, comes from someone who hadn’t seen the movie, but just read the book).
Well, of course, it’s not only the Erudites who are evil. It’s also the Dauntless – or at least, their leaders. Together, the brains and jocks have teamed up to wipe out the self-denying do-gooders. They apparently think that the only way to retain the order of their bizarrely engineered society is to wipe out 20% of it (well, to be fair, it probably has to do with the fact that that 20% is the part that controls the government). This puts our heroine in a strange position, narratively, because it means that she’s actually fighting not to uproot the dystopia, but to protect it. She’s fighting to preserve the status quo. Other dystopian elements, such as the large amount of people who are disenfranchised because they don’t make the cut in their chosen profession are lightly glossed over, presumably to be addressed in the sequels.
So my final thought is that Divergent is well directed but not very deeply considered in its world building. The acting is fine but not very memorable, and while I don’t dread future installments, I’m not hanging out for them either.