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Shailene Woodley Proves More Human Than Divergent

YA Yawn.

Shailene Woodley Proves More Human Than <I>Divergent</I>

Dystopian movies don't have to make sense. As the audience, we're obligated to sit down with our popcorn and soda and pretend that yes, of course, in the future monkeys rule the earth, women can't bear children, and Arnold Schwarzenegger is an everyday construction worker. It's a mutual contract of creative freedom, and if you can't play along, you're a spoilsport.

Fine, I'm a spoilsport. Neil Burger's Divergent is constructed around a narrative premise so illogical it makes Keanu Reeves being the Chosen One feel as earthbound a notion as saying water is wet.

In this future Chicago, a decimated city that's supposedly the last civilization standing, the citizenry is so organized that they've divided themselves into five factions and built an electrified Great Wall to protect themselves from outsiders, yet no one can be bothered to fix the broken windows. Guess Rudy Giuliani didn't survive the genericpocalypse.

Details

Divergent
Directed by Neil Burger
Written by Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor.
Based on the book by Veronica Roth.
Starring Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Ashley Judd, Jai Courtney, Ray Stevenson, Zoë Kravitz, Miles Teller, Mekhi Phifer, and Kate Winslet.
Lionsgate Films
Opens March 21



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But back to those five groups, for they are the pillars of salt upon which our plot rests, or really, flails. You have the Erudite, who are smart and wear blue, the Amity, happy hippies in orange, the honest Candor, who favor white, the Dauntless, brave fighters in black, and the Abnegation, selfless, gray-clad civil servants. (At least Veronica Roth, author of the novel this is based on, keeps up the teen lit tradition of sneaking in SAT words.) Teenagers test their aptitudes for each clan, but get the final say in a public ceremony with no takebacks besides social expulsion. Ninety-five percent test into the factions where they were raised, as though the future has resolved the debate of nature versus nurture.

I'm no social scientist, but declaring that all of mankind falls neatly into one, and only one, of these broad traits with nary an argumentative drama queen, craven fool, or anyone who would appear on The Real World is like sorting a bag of marshmallows based on squeezability and then declaring them biologically distinct. Sorry, Paula Abdul, these opposites can't attract -- they're not even allowed to talk. So the smart marry the smart and the brave marry the brave, and I reckon cartoon cats are executed on sight.

It'd be easier to root for lead Tris's (Shailene Woodley, the go-to girl for drab roles with grit) quest to escape her Abnegation roots and those ghastly gray skirts to prove herself a worthy Dauntless if director Burger felt committed to the concept. But under his guidance, the five clans act near-indistinguishably from each other except for their grooming, and when Tris stumbles in the hour-plus training sequence that makes up the bulk of the film, her instructor yells, "I thought you were smart!" Smart? But how?

Actually, Tris can be smart and brave -- she's secretly tested as Divergent, the rare person who can be smart, brave, giving, happy, and honest. Which, in this world, means she must be killed. Explains evil Erudite Jeanine (Kate Winslet), people who break the rules by being smart, brave, giving, happy, and honest start wars. You might as well blame violence on kitten calendars. But this is just another lapse in logic from a film where a fellow undercover Divergent who lives in dorms so public that the toilets don't have stalls reveals that he's tattooed his divergency on his spine. Can we at least disqualify him from being one of the smarties?

We have a lot of time to ponder these mysteries as there's almost no story. Watching Tris's efforts to pass Dauntless induction is like watching a race without a goal -- there's forward momentum, but no meaning. She's the ultimate adrift teenager, malleable and prone to random acts of self-martyrdom, with that movie-hero quality of being so good she's boring. At least Woodley has the gift of being fresh and believable. It's not a movie star quality. Watching her feels like watching a home video of your best friend on the toughest day of her life. When she's 35, Woodley could become the greatest actress of her generation, as long as she survives the next decade of being shoehorned into superhero roles and cash-in franchises.

Fighting alongside her both in Divergent and in the Hollywood factory are co-stars Miles Teller (soon to be of Fantastic Four) and Zoë Kravitz (formerly of X-Men: First Class). As her bratty sparring partner, Peter, Teller (who also acted against Woodley in the better teen-boundary-breaking drama The Spectacular Now) gets to stomp on her head. But it's Kravitz as her best friend, Christina, who does the most damage. During a lull in Dauntless training, she chirps, "You know what we should do? Get tattoos!" leading to Tris getting a permanent stamp of three birds across her collarbone like a plate for sale on Etsy.

I beg of you, teenage girls who may yet make Divergent a box office hit: Please don't do the same. We can't avoid the future -- dystopian or not -- but we can at least prevent regrettable fad tattoos.

 
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5 comments
carolineincity
carolineincity

This is a prime example of the Village Voice's supercilious, self-aggrandizing, "I'm sooooo 'Village Voice' and therefore I hate everything that others like" tendency in its movie reviews. Amy Nicholson, we get it...you didn't like the movie (or perhaps feared that with any positivity, you'd lose your "Village Voice cred)." You have some very valid points on the inconsistencies in portrayals of Veronica Roth's dystopian world, but overall, your review is utterly refutable because you're an admitted "spoilsport."  

Negative reviews carry much less weight when they're uninformed. Perhaps if you had educated yourself on the literary series behind this book, you could have provided a more knowledgable, thought-provoking criticism of this movie. You could've picked apart its weaknesses with a  full understanding of the original narrative, thus validating your questionable assessment of "Divergent" as a bad film, instead of throwing out knee-jerk phrases that sound something akin to a college freshman home for the weekend, doing laundry at her folks' house while telling her high-school sister that she's just 'soooooo immature.' But then again, maybe that's the language you thought would sink in for those teeneage girls you addressed at the end? 

Anon
Anon

I also was thinking the reviewer obviously had not read the book.  I have not seen the movie yet but I'm sure it left out major pieces of info and simplified many things due to obvious time constraints.  For instance, it's not that people are born only one way (happy, honest, smart, etc), it is that people are born with more of a propensity towards one of those things which is what they are tested for.  Then, they CHOOSE, how they wish to live.  There are people that tested into one group but still choose another group.  And, Tris is divergent which only means that her test cannot conclusively put her into one dominant faction.  She is actually dominant in three of the five factions.  Going on from this, it is not that a person cannot be brave and smart and honest, etc at the same time that is the problem the leader of the Erudite has with the Divergent....it is the fact that because whatever causes them to be more open to several factions, also makes them more uncontrollable and she wants to control them.   The factions and the way we see them progress throughout the story shows exactly the point you were alluding to about how humans are not really just one way.  This society tried to rebuild themselves after whatever happened by sectioning off into the factions.  It appears it worked for awhile....I don't believe it says how long...not sure.  But, human nature creeps in and you start to have things like power, greed, envy, etc. ruin things.  It is, how it will always be because humans are flawed.  We can try to rid society of our differences and our flaws but eventually they will always creep back in.   Yes, there are some flaw in the writer's logic or maybe just questions that never get answered but it is not as simple as you make it out to be in this review.  Hopefully, that's simply because you didn't read the book and movie simplified the story.  


As for the person who says these are the most overhyped books...I had never even heard of them until the movie trailer came out so I'm not sure just how hyped they are amongst adults.  If they are hyped amongst teens, who cares?  If it gets them reading, we should be thankful.  

Anon
Anon

You obviously haven't read the books. All of your issues are explained later in the trilogy.

Slappington
Slappington

@Anon So what?  If necessary information doesn't come across, that's a failure on the part of the film makers, not the reviewer.

geekspice
geekspice

@Anon  well... while it's true that cursory explanations are provided, they are unconvincing in the extreme. Also, from a narrative perspective (whether it's books or movies) it's not exactly a mark of quality to have to say, "I know it all seems incredibly stupid now, but just wait for the third movie!" I read all three books, and they were the biggest overhyped pile of rubbish since 50 Shades. Maybe worse, since the 50 Shades books were intentionally trashy.

 

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