Dystopian fiction is the latest craze in literature and film. In film, it started with the 2012 release of the first “Hunger Games” movie. For the last two years, it seems like there has been at least one new dystopian movie in theaters every week. Many of the movies are adaptations of books with large followings.
“Divergent” fits into both categories. The first book in the trilogy by Veronica Roth was released in 2011. Soon after, a cult-like following began demanding a movie and posting dream casts on Tumblr. In 2012, Summit Entertainment listened and began hiring the cast and crew.
The lead actors, Shailene Woodley and Theo James, as well as the director, Neil Burger, and Veronica Roth made a splash at the 2013 Comic Con. Fans were overjoyed by the snippets released, and on March 21, 2014, the movie was released.
The story centers on a teenage girl, Tris, who lives in a society where citizens are separated into five factions. Each faction is defined by its belief in the greatest human characteristic. Abnegation focuses on selflessness, Amity on joy and goodwill, Candor upholds honesty, Dauntless strives to be brave and fearless, and Erudite believes that knowledge is the key to success.
The motto in the society is “faction before blood,” and when citizens turns 16, they choose which faction they wish to be a part of. If they do not make a choice or do something that warrants removal from their faction, they become factionless, or homeless, and without a place in society. To help the teenagers choose a faction, a test takes them through a series of scenarios, and, depending on the choices they make within the test, it tells them where they belong.
Things don’t go well when our protagonist takes the test. Tris learns she does not fit in the system. She is Divergent. The authorities of the society fear the Divergent because they are a threat to the system and cannot be controlled. This fear leads those in charge to eliminate every Divergent. If Tris wants to stay alive, she must hide the truth from everyone.
The movie is riveting and creatively told. The acting and directing are brilliant and keep the audience thoroughly entertained. But this story is much more than an action-packed blockbuster. It gets to the heart of humanity and plays at themes that are relevant in today’s society.
The first of these themes is the need to belong. In the story’s world, belonging isn’t just a human want, it’s a necessity. Having a place in society with a home, a job and friends all depends on finding where you belong. In reality, everyone seeks to belong somewhere. Geeks cling to fandoms, athletes to sports, academics to their university or job. We all want to find that one place where we feel we belong.
Teenagers struggle with this desire the most. High schools are split into unspoken cliques, and the goal is to find where you best fit in so you don’t have to be alone. When high school ends, we have to make the important decision of where to go to college and what we want to study once we’re there. At the root of this decision is the question of belonging. Similarly in “Divergent,” teenagers feel their entire future hinges on their decision to join a certain faction, that if they make the wrong choice they will fail and never find a place to belong.
Another important theme in “Divergent” relevant to today’s society is the obsession with virtues. While the obsession is magnified in the story, there is still an evident emphasis on virtue in today’s world. The Christian church tends to stress selflessness, while scientists stress knowledge; and others focus on kindness, honesty or bravery.
The characters in the story all have to decide which characteristic defines them and then demonstrate it to fit in their faction. This leads to neglecting the other virtues and nurturing several vices. The main villain, Jeanine, is the head of the Erudite. She exemplifies knowledge, but she also has an insatiable thirst for power and control. As her knowledge grows, so does her desire to grow the society around her. She believes in the system she helped create and perfect, and she fears and distrusts anything that threatens it.
The emphasis of a single virtue, both in reality and in this story, leads to other vices. Many of those who crave and seek knowledge alone have the same insatiable desire for power. Those who seek bravery and fearlessness can often be cruel or careless. Selflessness on its own can lead to legalism. Honesty without love can lead to unkindness. Friendliness and happiness with no solid ground can lead to naiveté. One virtue without the others will often lead to more harm than good.
As Four, the leading man of the story and a member of Dauntless, says, “I don’t want to be just one thing. I can’t be. I want to be brave, and I want to be selfless, intelligent, and honest and kind.”
While there are many heavy themes throughout the story, the movie has several entertaining blockbuster qualities. The acting and directing are phenomenal, and it has just the right amount of action and romance. Making $54.6 million its opening weekend, “Divergent” is a movie you absolutely cannot miss.
Jessica Kersey is a senior journalism/public relations major and assistant digital editor for Cedars. She is an absolute geek and loves having conversations about random things with random people.
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