Families Die, Allegiances are Born
Divergent, in the similar formula of "Hunger Games", proposes a future world forever changed by a cataclysmic event, against the simmering backdrop of teen angst and the maturing relationship of the opposite sex.
The film begins in narrative explanation, by the film's heroine, Beatrice Prior (Tris), played by Shailene Woodley, as to her understanding that her world of metropolitan Chicago was severely, and irrevocably damaged, and then reborn as a totally different societal civilization. This new civilization of northern Illinois consisted of five "factions" of people: Abnegation, for the selfless behavior of leaders in service to all people; Amity, for the peaceful prospectus on life, who farm as their one avocation; Candor, for the honesty with good people, who hate duplicity; Dauntless, for the brave, and dutiful, who are trained to protect; and Erudite, for the intelligence to know what is best, but for whom(?).
Tris begins life within the bosom of her parent's faction, Abnegation, but never quite fits in with the selfless life of service to what's left of humanity in post-apocalyptic Chicago. Her parents: Mother Natalie Prior, played by Ashley Judd, and Father Andrew Prior, played by Tony Goldwyn, are committed to their cause, but in true unambiguous altruism, they reticently acknowledge that both of their children: Tris and brother, Caleb, played by Ansel Elgort, have chosen separate factions to join. During the selection process, Caleb chose Erudite and Trish chose Dauntless. These adolescents must choose factions for life, or become factionless - the process of becoming invisible as citizens.
This selective transition takes place at sixteen years of age for the adolescents, a time when present American children are more concerned with impressing friends, the opposite sex or both, rather than making an intractable life choice of that one life path. It is an impossible situation made worse by the inescapable process of being limited to the five choices: Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless and Erudite. How can any 16 year old make the right choice without becoming a brainwashed sycophant of the will of the many, even if any faction is roughly 1/5 of the visible population? So much for Free Will.
Jeanine Matthews, the leader of the Erudite faction, played by Kate Winslet, states during the selection process, "The future belongs to those who know where they belong."
What we discover later, should the young faction recruits not pass muster to make their prescribed faction, or if they choose wrong, or should they be divergent, there is no future. To become unfavored is bad bridge to a most uncertain future.
To hasten that uncertain future, Erudite faction is the intelligentsia, and as long as the Abnegation faction is useful to them, Abnegation will remain as the governing class. In "Divergent", we witness the beginnings of that transition forced upon the unwary faction that destroys the societal system's balance in this ill conceived utopia.
Both of the Prior children, Beatrice and Caleb were sensitive, thoughtful, aware, but as far as we know, only one of them was Divergent - Tris. When Tris was administered her mind-invading test, there were clear signs that she probably had those qualities of free thought, a reckless ability to be able to "think outside the box". Tris is the story's heroine, the protagonist; she is Divergent, and to a large extent, this is her story - at least this first installment.
When the the 2nd installment Insurgent, is released in 2015, we shall see how the other characters fit into this tale of assemblage into class to survive the prejudices of the norm. It is a norm that punishes any divergence from the norm, by their ostracization from society, or by pain of death. This brave new world is a dangerous one for those that do not follow a structured dictum of thought, and the thought-police are everywhere. Understandably, being divergent is a death sentence, conducted quietly in the shadows.
"Divergent", while it does ambitiously remind one of "Hunger Games" at the onset, the film slowly begins to take shape as a theme based story that is so different from it predecessor. As "Hunger Games" was eerily reminiscent of the Glory of Rome in its final days, with the Gladiators keeping the decadent public entertained as their society crumbled beneath them, "Divergent" is more analogous of Rome, as the Christians gained a foothold in the catacombs, and then endured more than a century of the most absolute persecution. The idea that one is managed by a government, a Republic or no, rather than their own Free Will to live, to worship, or just raise their own, obeying righteous laws, while living a righteous life could somehow be an abomination to the statist rights of the rulers in this film is such a terribly wrong concept.
Once the break is made from autocratic ruling elite, the Erudites, this film makes it easy to root for the persecuted, the humble, the meek, as if they are early Christians of Rome, who were just hanging on by a thread, and risking everything temporal to save, and preserve their immortal, eternal souls.
This film, directed by Neil Burger, from a 2011 novel by Veronica Roth, sets a sturdy foundation for the 3 succeeding installments of a series that begs to tell a story of severe government overreach, and chronic societal exclusion that is mimicked no where, to this extent, in today's world, save the Muslim Middle East, where racism, religious persecution, sexism, bigotry and xenophobia is practiced as a matter of continual practice.
This first installment of Divergent sets the stage for a poorly conceived society gone immeasurably wrong, for gang of heroes to save or to fail, but this story will be in the trying to right the ship. It will be interesting to discover if Tris Prior and company succeeds. There will surely exist the requisite of teen romance, but I truly believe that amongst it all, and interwoven within, we will find a fine story.
Rated PG-13; released on DVD August 5, 2014; 139 minutes of run time.
This post appears courtesy of our sister site, Beaufort County NOW, with their expressed permission.