Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Divergent (2014)

2014 was something of a banner year for dystopian YA fiction at the cinema.  It saw the release of the third Hunger Games film, the opening film in the Maze Runner trilogy, and of course, this movie.  I've been meaning to catch up on it (and the other franchises) since missing it at the cinema.  So when I stumbled across the DVD in a discount bin, well there was only ever going to be one outcome.

The film is set an undefined period of time after an undefined catastrophe.  Chicago has become a walled city, with the populace split into five factions based on certain personality traits.  The faction of Erudite for logic and reason; of Abnegation for selflessness and public service; Amity for harmony; Candor for ... well, candour; and Dauntless for bravery.  Each faction fulfils an important role in the community, and the ties of faction are more important than those of blood.  Through this structure, peace is preserved,

Children are raised in the faction of their parents, but at the age of 16 they undergo a test to indicate which is the faction for which they are best suited.  They aren't compelled to accept this test's outcome; they can choose another faction, if they wish.  But whatever choice they make is for life.

Tris belongs to an Abnegation family, but has never felt like she really fits.  When she takes her test, her misgivings are borne out: she is Divergent, an individual whose mind does not neatly fit into any of the factions.

Divergents are considered a threat to public safety and peace, and so Tris is very lucky that she gets a tester who has personal reasons to conceal her results.  Tris gets lucky like this a lot in the film, to be honest.  It's something I feel is a bit of a weakness in the narrative.

In any case, Tris still has to choose a faction.  She decides to join Dauntless: the city's soldiers and police.  This begins an intensive period of training where she not only has to fear washing out - and ending up factionless - but also the discovery of her Divergent nature.  Oh, and there's the little matter of a possible coup in the making.

As noted above, I feel like Tris gets helped out and rescued a little too often and a little too obviously.  I prefer my protagonists to survive on their own merits and skills as far as possible.  It's particularly galling to see this in the movie because in the book, Tris is more proactive and self-reliant.  Silly screenwriters.

Fortunately the film does have merits.  The cast is very strong, for one thing.  And it doesn't jettison all the good elements of the novel: for example they keep the recurring motif of people assuming Tris is softer than she really is.

Overall, this is a decent though not exceptional action adventure tale.  A shame it wasn't better, as this is my favourite of the books in the series.

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