Photo Credit: Lionsgate
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Oh brother. Or should I say, ‘Oh Sister!’? Remember when being a teenager meant being embarrassed by your own bodily changes, acne scars and the very existence of your parents? Those days are, apparently, a thing of the past.
Like Twilight and The Hunger Games franchises, Divergent takes typical teenage angst and tries to apply the challenges of adulthood to adolescent minds and bodies. Inevitably, it devolves into a survival test – nothing kills quite like a moonlit vampire or a badass heroine in fiery leather – but you have to buy into the premise before we are ever going to believe that society’s future existence hinges on the doings and goings of a teenager. This, Divergent gets terribly, horribly wrong.
The movie fails, in short, because it takes itself (and the very concept of futuristic dystopia) faaaaaaaaaar to seriously. The entire film is a quilt of grey, brown and murky blues meant to invoke the seriousness of a post-apocalyptic future and thereby inveigh the heroine Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley) with existential gravitas. Nope, nope and nope again.
I have not (and will not) read the young adult novels upon which the film is based. It all seems rather perfunctory and predictable if the film is anything to go by. But here’s what you need to know: Beatrice (or ‘Tris’) is a seemingly ordinary teenager in a world where human beings are divided into factions according to abilities and ‘virtues’ (aside: why is the future always depicted as some sort of hyperbolically class conscious caste system? If anything, the world seems to be getting smaller and monolithic, not the other way around). Tris, of course, discovers that she doesn’t fit into any one group and is therefore a ‘divergent’. She also, of course, discovers a nefarious plot by the evil leader Jeanine Matthews (Kate Winslet, doing her best to channel Hillary Clinton and any number of cable news hosts) to destroy the Divergents.
And so the heroine is set on her quest to save herself, the other Divergents, and indeed all of humanity. The film works as dystopian fantasy – what it lacks (sorely) is any sense of humor, romance or levity in the onslaught of a relentlessly downbeat tone. And that is what kills it in the end. It’s serious to the point of dull. And so the question remains: will the target audience of teens notice?
They certainly didn’t seem to balk at the mid-numbingly dull agony that was Twilight.View All Photos ›