I had heard a lot about Divergent, but I didn’t read the books, contrary to how I had devoured all the Hunger Games books prior to watching the first movie. I recently watched the movie, so all my knowledge of the universe and this review are solely based on the feature films as I am not familiar with the books at all.
I wasn’t blown away by the movie, though there are some elements I found interesting. I had a really hard time engaging with the female lead, Tris. I wanted to, but as much as I was glad to see her mature throughout the story, I didn’t feel moved by her as I did for example with Katniss Everdeen. In my view, Tris is much more of a classic hero. In a way she reminded me of Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, in how she just doesn’t fit where she is, runs around in circles, and just wants out. Even Tris’s brother had earlier development for me, in the scene when he comes to speak to Tris the evening before the Choosing. This was a great moment.
I tend to enjoy dystopian stories, but the world presented in Divergent didn’t catch my attention so much. The information dumping at the opening of the movie was straightforward, which was a good thing. Yet, I didn’t feel all that interested in the setting. The five faction: Abnegation the selfless, Amity the peaceful, Candor the honest, Dauntless the brave, and Erudite the intelligent, were also presented well, but from the moment the Choosing for the 16 year old left me with tons of questions, that remained with me for the rest of the movie. If people are able to change factions, definitely, when they are sixteen year old, and even though told to forget about the one they were raised in, the movie shows that people can retain skills and mindset from their childhood’s group. Tris’s mother shows that she still retains abilities from her Dauntless childhood, and isn’t shown as Divergent (rarities when people, like Tris and Four, think outside the box and aren’t ‘ruled’ by a primary faction in their personality). The same way, I was curious that Candor people could eventually learn to lie when they choose another faction. I understand that the test is to determine which faction dominates someone’s personality, thus letting someone have traits from other factions I guess, to a smaller degree. Yet, the whole Divergent aspect puzzles me a little, because I am not so sure about the possible genetic or personality implications, especially as people evolve as they continue to mature. What I understand best about this is the political system and a way for the factions to keep people in line. I still find it surprising that so few people are detected as Divergent though.
Another thing I had issues with was the Dauntless and their mindset and training. I understand that they are brave and fearless as they are the warrior faction. Yet, as they are also described as protectors and security officers, I think that showing them as being reckless and undergoing training that only seems to be about “beat or be beaten” is very reductive. I would have expected this faction to benefit from more than just that, and develop skills beyond violence to get their calling achieved. Of course, you could say that certain scenes, like the hunt for the flag, shows that they also need observation skills for example. Yet, the whole dauntless training and settings didn’t feel as compelling as it could have been, for the most part.
While I don’t support gratuitous rape (even attempted) scenes, I think that the one Tris sees in her final test, showing her fear of such things made sense and brought up a discourse about how women’ and girls’ no means exactly that: no, and must thus be respected. I remember reading this piece a few months ago, even before seeing the movie. Showing that fear of sexual assault can be visceral even when someone gets involved with another person who has treated them well, and that it can take time to overcome said fears.
That brings me to what I liked best in Divergent: male lead, Four, and his love story with Tris. I didn’t expect to find Four such a compelling and layered character, but he was my favorite without any hesitation. The execution of the love story, and how it developed from a mentor and mentee relationship, and then a friendship, was very well done. One thing that was especially important was that even when they first had conflicts, they were always able to speak to each other, and have clear communication. This is great to show how they didn’t need to play game with each other. Seeing Tris express her boundaries and Four respecting them without any problem is an important part of the movie. I like how there were so many little moments between them that helped the bond grow bit by bit.
When Four reveals his fears to Tris, it brings up the issue of parental abuse. Earlier in the movie, it was mentioned how the political leader, Marcus might have beaten his son, prior to said son changing factions. Most people wave it away, including Tris’s parents. When Four is revealed as Marcus’s son and that the abuse is confirmed as real, this makes one wonder who did really know, who didn’t want to know. I hope that more is done about this. Four reunites with his father towards the end of the movie, but I hope that they are able to address it further in one of the sequel movies. There was tacit and nonverbal communication, but it makes me uncomfortable that Marcus might just get away with everything, just because he helped a bit to free the Dauntless from the mind control, and save others, at the end of the movie.