“Divergent” – Derivative
I have to admit that, at first, I was quite intrigued by the set up of the new science fiction movie “Divergent.” Sadly though, before too long, I was disappointed (although not very surprised) to soon find myself in a movie that was tedious and whose title could have almost had its letters rearranged to one more fitting, like “Derivative.”
The problems with “Divergent” are many. The most basic one is an issue many movies have. There is an interesting premise, which is fine for the first and second acts. After this, the story just does not know what to do with itself and, as a result, follows patterns that are predictable, un-intriguing and easily resolvable. The malady, referred to in both film and theatre, is called, “Trouble in the third act.” An example is a great premise that is resolved with a standard issue CGI (computer graphics imaging) enhanced car chase and/or shoot out. Story over, back door left open for a sequel.
I went to see “Divergent” with a friend of mine whom I had not seen in several months. The last movie we had seen together was “Elysium” (2013). When “Divergent ended my friend asked, “Wasn’t this the same story as ‘Elysium?’” Well, yes, to a certain extent, but “Divergent” may as well have also been called “Hunger Games Too,” with a bit of “Inception” (2010) thrown in for, hopefully, good box office measure. In fact, Kate Winslet has a small part as Jeanine, an evil ultra conservative government person nearly identical to Delacourt, the character played by Jodie Foster in “Elysium.” Interesting enough, “Divergent” can be turned into an anagram, “give trend.”
In “Divergent,” Shailene Woodley plays Tris, a character almost identical to Katniss Everdeen from “The Hunger Games” (2012), (played, in that film, by Jennifer Lawrence). Both Tris and Katniss are young women living in futuristic, dystopian states who are put into positions in which they have to prove their respective mettles via physical prowess. In other words, there is lots of running around, jumping, shooting and general mayhem.
Tris goes through numerous trials. At various points she is given mysterious liquids that put her into imaginary situations in which she has to defend herself a la “Inception.” There is even a futuristic game of “Capture the Flag,” played as a hi-tech game of paint ball using bullets that only simulate the pain of having been shot, without all the drudgery, blood and death of actually being shot. Thanks a lot!
As if this is not enough, Tris jumps off buildings and trains. In fact, “Divergent” puts Tris through so many tests of strength, courage and survival that, after a while, I wanted to yell at the screen, “OK. We get it. She’s tough. Now may we please get on with the story?”
The “Divergent” story has to do with a society divided into a caste system consisting of five different categories. Tris has to take a mandated test to see into which caste she fits. Think futuristic SAT. Tris has the free will to join any caste she wants as the test is meant to be only a guide. It turns out that Tris is “divergent,” meaning she does not fit into any caste. This is a cause of great consternation for the person administering the test, as well as Tris’ parents. But why? The story never explains. Tris’ “divergent” status does not seem to be a problem. She chooses to join the caste called Dauntless, a kind of futuristic police force that puts her through endless tests and initiations. As far as I could tell, the fact that Tris is “divergent” does not seem to figure into the story at all. I think the same scenario could have been told without this plot point…which would have made for a film mercifully shorter.