For the teenage girls too smart for “The Hunger Games,” “Divergent” uses the premise of a dystopian city to help a few deprived souls with an unrealistic dream. For the rest, it entertains with its sheer, unrealistic nature, if it does not insult and infuriate first.
Basically, the protagonist, Tris, lives in a world segregated by most dominate character trait: Abnegation (selfless), Erudite (intelligence), Amity (kindness), Candor (honesty) and Dauntless (bravery). As the protagonist of a Mary Sue fan-fiction, Tris is so special that she cannot be categorized in one faction, so she must go on a deep internal journey, only to still have no idea who she is. She is joined by a gallery of characters, who have a semblance of personality.
Character development is limited in the movie as the focus is on the main protagonist. Most of the characters developed through facial expressions and reactions as expressed by the actors. Four, Tris’ love interest, is not a believable male lead; no guy will (or should) ever admit all his faults, insecurities and psychological scars, with visuals aids to a girl he barely knows, especially if he likes her. The situation did not warrant such behavior, and he should have just told her how to deal with the situation, not reveal the deepest darkest parts of his psyche.
The rest of the male cast members (Will, Al and Peter) are mostly interchangeable, except Will is more of a cardboard cutout. The others have the character trait of being jerks, some of the time, although Peter is more evil than Al. The main male antagonist, Eric, contains the more realistic motivation in the film; an inferiority complex. The overall character development for the male characters insults the narrative art of film as well as the male gender (and probably literature too).
As insulting as most of the male characters are, by far the most ridiculous character is the main female lead. Supposedly a product of her society, Tris cannot decide anything for herself. In the introduction, she states that she wishes to be a part of the dauntless faction, but when her testing results are unclear, thus giving her an opportunity to choose for herself, she complains how the test did not tell her what to choose.
A proactive protagonist struggling against the confines of her society would jump at the chance to achieve her dream, but she does not. Later, the audience does see her decision to join dauntless, but the lead up to this decision does not make sense. Consequently, this decision does not have the weight it should, especially in the context of the world.
The most interesting character is Christina, Tris’s best friend, who gets a tenth of the screen time that Tris has, yet has more character arches than all of the other characters combined. However, most of her development happens through facial expressions and character acting, as she has very little dialogue.
“Divergent” does not approach humanity in a convincing way. The relationships between Christina and Tris, Christina and Will and Eric and Four are believable; a friendship between girls, an off-screen romance portrayed through character acting in the background and an antagonistic rivalry. Every other relationship falls flat, which is tragic.
The main romance is not believable mostly due to the poorly written leads. Tris channels the reaction of every intelligent viewer in one line, “You barely know me, and [you’re comfortable with letting me inside you head].” This sadly is ignored, even if it is probably the most realistic line in the entire script.
Most of their relationship is established in a little under two months of knowing each other exists, culminating in one kiss shared while basking in the glow of a sunset with a shirtless Four. The atmosphere holds no sense of reality, and the kiss looks so awkward. During the kiss Four looks so uncomfortable, it is sad.
Nothing about their relationship is realistic. Everything he says carries no weight and value because no guy talks like that.
All of the actors played their parts very well, but the dialogue and poorly written characters detract from them too much, which is highlighted though the extras. They add so much to the suspense of belief, and world building it is astonishing. These extras defy all expectation as they are a key aspect of the world building, especially in the scenes where the camera is reflecting on the stakes and consequences of decisions in this society.
Unfortunately, “Divergent” was made specifically for the fans of the books. No one dragged to the movie would understand half of what was going on, and they would not have the invested suspense of belief that the fans have. As the “uninitiated” do not have that pre-established notion, it is easy to spot so many plot hole, contrivances and conveniences. This was not a smart move from a narrative standpoint or from a business standpoint.
With the cinematography, “Divergent” was rather sloppy. It had a few awkward shots and edits mostly in the fight scenes, supposedly to mask the pitiful choreography. There were a few poorly integrated edits between scenes, and a couple of obviously shorten scenes with weird zooms. The first third of the movie had an odd preference to facial close-up and shaky cam moments. For what it is worth, there are a number of good sweeping shots of the scenery, panning shots of stunts, and a couple of good transitions within the simulation scenes.
The music was phenomenal and influential, accentuating emotions, actions and situations perfectly. Providing thematic correlations and familiar tones between similar scenes, Hans Zimmer knew what he was doing, making the music almost worth the entire movie.
“Divergent” was a very interesting experience as it personally infuriated me, but my little sister seemed to enjoy it. I loved the music beyond words, but Four’s character represents the proverbial nails on the chalkboard of my brain. I felt horrible for the men who are held to that disgusting expectation and sorry for girls who believe that this portrayal anywhere near realistic, but now I can look back at it and laugh.
There were so many attempts to make it seem the narrative somewhat plausible and kind of philosophical. It skimmed over many themes such as belonging, destiny versus free will, individuality versus conformity, human nature and peace versus prevention of war, but all exploration of human behavior and social commentary summed up in one sentence by the main antagonist in the last act like a Saturday morning cartoon.
“Divergent” mostly panders to the demographic of teenage girl as well as fans of the book series, but it honestly could be enjoyable to those who want to make legitimate fun of the Young Adult Romance genre.
Kimberly Joy Ward