Lauren: Surprising no one, least of all myself, Zac and I find ourselves on opposing sides of the enjoy it or hate it spectrum when it comes to the newest YA novel adaptation gracing the big screen. But which one of us shares the popular reaction to the film, and which one of us is divergent? Bum bum bum!
Divergent opens up with the wasteland surrounding the once great city of Chicago (though it never had anything on St. Louis), desolate in the aftermath of some war that destroyed the US as we know it. Within the confines of the city wall, the people of Chicago have been broken up into five factions based on one main trait per group: the selfless in Abnegation, the peaceful in Amity, the honest in Candor, the brave in Dauntless, and the intelligent in Erudite. Overly simplistic, these divisions are supposed to keep the peace, but what happens when someone decides to be an individual? That’s what our main protagonist, Beatrice Prior, must deal with as she comes of age in this society.
***Warning: Spoilers throughout***
Zac: That opening shot was a great and realized visual representation of the dystopian city, I liked almost nothing that came after it.
There are a lot of elements that are interesting in that opening scene. What happened to all the water? What was the reason behind the war? How did these people survive? Why must we divide the people into adjective based social classes. None of these will be answered or addressed in a reasonable way.
Instead, the film focuses on training, and training, and more training, never stopping to focus on some of the interesting ideas that could, and should, exist in this world.
Why are we not looking at how abandoning your parents effects both them and the child beyond a couple of glances? Why is leaving your faction so terrible if we see the groups constantly intermingling? Why is a society we are told is peaceful with no current threats of violence so desperate to kill each other and destroy the system? Again, no answers. Saying wait for the sequel doesn’t work either when you have such a terrible, dull and uneventful plot like the one on display here.
Lauren: Patience, young padawan. Your answers, should you choose to keep looking, will come at a later point in the series. I’m not saying they will be satisfying, because I know they weren’t for me, but you will get some answers. Except for why there was a giant ship that has no right being that far away from the ocean in the opening scene. As for now, you don’t get answers because the people we are following don’t have them for you.
As for the division, that is more or less answered. It’s because people are stupid and believe that dividing people based on differences will keep the peace. It has happened throughout history in other ways, so it’s not really that far off of a concept. It’s idiotic for anyone to go along with, but if it’s all you know I guess people cannot be blamed for going along with it. To an extent, anyway.
Why is a society we are told is peaceful with no current threats of violence so desperate to kill each other and destroy the system? Maybe to gain power? Ever hear of a greedy person taking out others for power? Clearly that’s what the leader of Erudite wants. Are you trying to put any thought into these questions? Come on Zac, it doesn’t take a genius to speculate.
Zac: I can do plenty of speculation and deduction, but NOBODY in the film bothers/seems smart enough to do so in the movie. Again, maybe they get into this in the later books, but its frustrating as a viewer to have neither the author or their characters be curious/address all of these potentially interesting questions. I can come up with what I think about them (their society is idiotic), but if the characters aren’t asking questions how am I supposed to know them or how they feel about anything. The most I get to know about anyone is that they think, “Isn’t it cool to live the bro life in Dauntless?”
The fact that you are calling all of the people stupid is something I can totally agree with and I don’t know how we can both see it this way and you are entertained by this.
Lauren: I’m not saying that this film is any deep revelation or insightful historical analysis because it’s not, it’s not meant to be past a certain point. It’s just a setting, and for now this first film is mostly to introduce us to Tris, the main character and what she goes through for being divergent, and just as a member of this society in general. The problem is that we don’t have the inner monologue of Tris in the film version, and far too little conversation about thoughts and issues to really understand her turmoil. Plus the movie is trying to work in this war on the divergent, and I will say that this isn’t handled as well as it could have been, or as well as it was in the book. There were brief mentions here or there about divergence and it being bad, and then suddenly Four finds this serum and there is genocide of a different group of people. Now that was a jump that could have been handled better.
Zac: The planned eradication of Abnegation was the only actual plot in the film, so I actually wasn’t that jarred by that reveal. They made a point to drop in a new plot point around this after every thirty minutes of training; again, I would have liked a little more background as to why.
As for the lack of inner monologue, then you have to find a way to make up for that some how. Hunger Games failed at this as well, so maybe this series will learn its lesson in the sequel, but as it stands here I had zero idea what motivated Tris to make any of her decisions until her parents start getting killed. Why does she want to be Dauntless/leave Abnegation? Because she wants to be a badass? She feels a need to protect? Because they jump out of moving trains to a terrible film score? Does she just love parkour? I know the test said she had three of the factions in her (how does that faction sorting hat machine work by the way? Is it just bullshit? SO MANY QUESTIONS UNANSWERED), but why did she pick that one? If your lead’s motivations are that obscured you can’t hope for anyone else’s motivation to be that clear either (spoiler, they aren’t), and I hate feeling like the film is telling you to just wait for the sequel. That is bullshit; you shouldn’t make a book or movie with barely its own story and hold back so much for the next edition.
Lauren: Well who doesn’t love parkour? As far as I can remember she did say stuff about never feeling like she belonged in Abnegation in the voiceover; but yeah, other than her chasing the Dauntless running through the streets as a child it is surprising that she would choose that faction. It was in the book as well. But it was the best place for the story… So there you go. That and maybe she wanted to be brave? Shut up Zac! I don’t know!
Zac: This is partially the filmmakers’ problem because they had the whole series at their disposal and I think they would have been better suited at trying to tell a broader story rather than focusing on Tris and making such a, seemingly, straight adaptation. Their inability to do this shouldn’t be that surprising, as the filmmaking is so poor. The film has no idea how to build tension or give a sense of place, add this to the poor world building (outside those initial visuals), and I think you can start to see why I think so poorly of this movie.
Lauren: I would agree with you there, especially because I know what’s to come. It probably would have ticked off the diehard fans to pull from all three instead of just sticking to a straight adaptation, but maybe the third book wouldn’t have sucked so much if all of the world building reveals didn’t seem so out of left field.
I dunno… I’m having difficulties with this one now. I enjoyed the film, but that could be because I have the book as a backup knowledge base to pull from. Especially considering how you responded to it. The pacing wasn’t the best and they had to take out a lot of stuff that probably would have helped you come to terms with what you were given had the runtime not been an issue, and I definitely wanted to punch the person in charge of working the music in (as much as I enjoy the occasional Ellie Goulding song), but I enjoyed it darn it! And so did my sister.
Zac: The pacing was brutal, but I don’t get why they had to cut out all of this stuff you’re talking about either. 80% of the movie was training and most of that could have been shown in a couple of montages. Show me more about these characters and who they are. Instead they kept on constantly trying to build tension around these events that don’t have any stakes because we already know you are making three movies and because you won’t tell us anything about anything.
All of the set pieces they were hoping to get out of Tris being a Dauntless were pretty lame. Capture the flag, throwing knives and her getting beat up weren’t all that exciting (again, no stakes) and then the second level of training all takes place in their brains, with no risk to their health whatsoever. The mantra for this sequence is, literally, “this isn’t real.” They can’t even muster some sexual tension between Tris and Four (can’t wait for the story behind that name) and when they do finally connect sex is completely off the table. So much so, that sex is one of her biggest fears! Why doesn’t anybody want to have sex in these books?
Lauren: You already got the story behind the nickname Four: he has four fears. Simple enough. Sometimes I wonder if you were even paying attention at all…
And I wouldn’t say nobody wants to have sex, you’re just basing that on the reaction of one person, a girl who grew up in a very modest section of society. Is it so bad that she wants to take things slowly? Speaking as someone who was once a teenage girl, it doesn’t really seem that far off base. But hey, if you want to watch underage girls having sex then that’s on you.
Zac: How old was she? When do you make your choice/get tested. And her and her brother weren’t twins so why did they go in the same year.
About the whole sex thing, I just find it interesting how all of these stories about teenagers are so devoid of sex when those hormones are raging. I work in a middle school and kids younger than these guys are saying things that would make Tris blush. But I’m with you, I wasn’t doing anything exciting as a teenager either. Too much info?
Lauren: Nope. Let’s have a sleepover, watch The Notebook, braid each other’s hair and talk about it.
Zac: Growing my hair out……………..now.
Lauren: Even though you’ll probably say the opposite based on everything that we’ve talked about, I did enjoy the acting for the most part, almost as much as I was upset about how little Ashley Judd got to do. Not only that, but her death wasn’t as epic as it was on the page, which I was majorly bummed about. Just a little detail, but it was such a hero moment that would have played better for me, especially if they had worked her mom in as they had in the novel. Granted the father’s death was handled even worse. Let the man get shot on camera!
Zoe Kravitz was probably my favorite, but I will always be a fan of Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller, no matter how much they made me try to hate them with The Spectacular Now. His character definitely had darker and more douchey depths to sink into, but I guess stabbing a fellow recruit in the eye during the night was just too dark for the film.
Random tangent before getting back to the actors: that was probably my biggest disappointment. This film could have gone way darker. Al’s suicide could have been handled better had they taken more time to build up the recruits, Tris’s beating in the ring should have gone much longer and further (a montage could have helped here, like you said)… They should have worked harder to project a level of fear in this world considering Tris is basically in trouble of being killed for two different reasons. Well, I guess the Divergent thing was the only actual death sentence, but being factionless is supposed to suck.
All that said, my biggest complaint about the actors was that Theo James wasn’t asked to turn around when we got to see his back tattoos. And they could have worked in more subtleties to show his growing feelings for Tris throughout the film, but mostly the abs thing. (That’s the type of thing we can talk about while braiding hair).
Zac: Why wasn’t that eye stabbing thing in the film!? Would have added so much to the character and stakes of the training. Plus, it gives us something to worry about seeing that he survives and leave town with them in the end. Teller and Judd were both underused, for sure, but Woodley I have enjoyed less and less each role I have seen her in. The great cast brought me back to Hunger Games: Catching Fire; this series doesn’t have that luxury and I don’t know what it will take to get me back for the sequel.
Jai Courtney’s Eric was a refreshing presence, as he was the only person in the film with any charisma, but what the hell was Kate Winslet doing in this movie? Talking about slumming it. They could have gotten her a part in Hunger Games, right?
Lauren: Yeah eye stabbing was missed, and I am pretty sure there was a threat on the rooftop of some people being forced to jump to their death while under mind control unless Tris did something, but I could be misremembering the events of the book. As for Winslet, my guess is that she took the role because of her overall presence and importance to the trilogy, and not just what was in this film. You’ll just have to wait and see… That is, if you are willing to.
I am, and I am sure other fans of the books will definitely be sticking around for the Insurgent adaptation. But if those who haven’t read the series take to the film like you did, it could be in some serious trouble. I don’t know about Mortal Instruments: City of Bones trouble; guess we’ll find out soon enough.
Lauren’s Final Grade: B (probably will drop to a B- in the future)
Zac’s Final Grade: F