Director Niel Burger had a unique challenge and some great opportunities with his movie adaptation of Veronica Roth’s novel, Divergent. I thought highly of the novel, and Mr. Burger did an impressive job with the film.
Divergent is visually impressive. The cinematography is sweeping, grand, and tinged with the decay Mrs. Roth depicted so well in her novel. I was pleased to find so much diversity in faction dress, living quarters… some things were cut for time, but the real-world visuals were stunning. Divergent‘s story relies heavily on simulations, computer-controlled drug hallucinations that test a person’s character and abilities. If there was one part of the story that was custom-made for the big screen, the simulations were a make-or-break portion of the storyline. The simulations are cut down for time, but all of the points come through. The visions are fantastic while still rooted in the visuals of the real world. This deft touch made the fantastic visions all the more believable, exactly what someone who grew up in their world would have imagined.
I have a single point against the casting in this film. Once again the stories of kids in their middle teens are portrayed by actors between twenty-three and thirty. This provides a bit of a buffer to the shock I felt reading the book, where terrible things happen to children, and the film where someone imagines it for us.
That minor point aside, no one is going to get critical praise for their acting which is a pity because the roles were amazing. Every actor stepped into character and turned the dial up to eleven. I loathed Eric (Jai Courtney) in the books, but I spent half the film fighting the urge to reach through the screen and strangle him. That is the mark of a great pulp villain. Miles Teller’s portrayal of Peter was equally loathsome, another success for an actor I expect great things from when he hits thirty and can start playing adult roles consistently. Shailene Woodley plays Beatrice, the main character who undergoes a credible and level transformation from a fearful child to a young warrior over the course of two hours. Theo James (Four) and Ashley Judd (Natalie) also turn in solid performances.
Hollywood has done great justice to a number of YA books over the past few years (Mortal Instruments, Host, and Hunger Games top the list), with a big enough budget to give largely moral tales the cast and effects that they deserve. Divergent holds its own with the rest of these, and I like it better than any but Host. There are some flaws with the fight choreography. The gun play is occasionally ridiculous, with supposedly trained people running as far as possible from any possible cover, jogging instead of sprinting when people are about to shoot them, etc. Junkie XL makes up for some of that with an excellent soundtrack that I am going to have to
To dig into the film a little deeper, this film embodies a quote by Margaret Thatcher: “Socialists cry “Power to the people”, and raise the clenched fist as they say it. We all know what they really mean — power over people, power to the State.” The government has organized all people into Factions, based on the government-administered hallucination. “Faction before family,” the government says, and enforces the change with death or banishment to the factionless, forbidden to buy, sell, or work. Does anyone in the audience recognize the exact description of the antichrist’s methods from the book of Revelation?
Everything that was hard to watch in this film I can point to in the actual history of socialism, which has committed as many atrocities in the past century to match most every religious war I have ever heard of, combined. Only the government having weapons? Excellent. Now who can defy you? Train the children to trust the government (Factions) above all family or love? It’s in here. Humanity is the openly confessed enemy of those in power. Human nature is to be destroyed. Whoever does not fit in must be defamed, murdered, or massacred. At the heart level socialist systems believe that people must not have freedom, because they would misuse it, so those who control the government and are wiser and smarter than the masses, and they will kill the masses to make sure their superior vision is followed.
The only difference is in what way the soul (the core of human nature) must be destroyed. Dauntless will beat the soul from you, like the wolf-pack mentality of Nazi Germany. Abnegation will strip it from you with false piety like the worst caricature of the monastic ideal. Amity will drown it in false kindness at the cost of all individual thought, like the lock-step ideals of our own nation’s Hippie movement. Erudite will starve it on a cold steel plate of heartless science, like the rationalists Dickens loved to eviscerate. Candor will stab the soul to death with a thousand verbal wounds in the name of truth without love.
Part of the reason the Divergent trilogy resonates so strongly with me is because it addresses the dominant evil of the last hundred years, painted in bright colors, the advancement of collective vision over the individual. And if the collective does not value you, then die. The God-given desire to be free (not freedom from an authority, for true freedom can only flourish with loyalty and compassion) rises up with genuine anger at these abuses, and this passion taps into the story, and leaves us with a good lesson.
Generations ago, George Orwell’s Animal Farm attacked socialism through caricature. Divergent takes the rhetorical approach reductio ad absurdum, painting so boldly that I hope another generation learns the potential evils of socialism in film and steer their lives and perhaps their nations clear of it in the future.
The film is worthwhile. There is enough left out that the book will be a treat if you have only read the movie, and there is enough truth to make this story virtuous as well as entertaining.