The Sorting Ceremony
A Film Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
There is yet another young adult novel adaptation to hit the screens and no, it really doesn’t do anything differently. Divergent, based on Veronica Roth’s novel of the same name, falls victim to its own genre. Young adult dystopia has become more ubiquitous than Starbucks locations and as such, when you watch the film you are constantly bombarded with an annoying sensation of deja vu. You’ve seen the most exciting bits of the film somewhere else and more likely in a better adaptation. When a genre becomes ubiquitous, the only way for a narrative to stand out is to do something different. Divergent toys with that but never does anything exciting and original with it. There’s an intriguing narrative streak here, but time after time after time the film doubles down on conventionality. It’s disappointing, drab, and boring. You might just want to rewatch the original Hunger Games, horrible shaky cam and all.
The society that this world evolves around is basically divided into separate factions like Dauntless, which is basically codeword for “Badasses”. The most interesting thing by far that the film does is introduce a society that forces children to choose from an early age what they will do for the rest of their lives (alluding to perhaps more orthodox familial structures that inherently present limited choices to their children). How can you reverse that if it’s not the right fit for you? What if your true talents are being squandered for the sake of a rigid societal structure? Um, you just have to be born Dauntless apparently, because otherwise you are screwed. There’s little exploration of that inherent ethical dilemma and the entire film is significantly weakened as a result.
The story centers around another special child (because that’s never been done before) named Triss. She is what you would call a Divergent, which essentially means that she has the capability of being multiple things at the same time (like an athletic lawyer or a doctor that is also a fantasy writer). Such multi-talented beings are a dangerous threat to society and Triss becomes an immediate danger not just to those around her, but especially herself. Gasp! Woodley does her absolute best for the character and she’s perhaps the best written character out of the group. Yet the script never manages to give anyone else a decent amount of characterization. Whenever Triss isn’t on screen, everything completely falters. The supporting cast (which includes amazing heavyweights like Ashley Judd, Michelle Pfeiffer, and the criminally underused Kate Winslet) is largely delegated to the sidelines and some of them are completely interchangeable. There’s a massive betrayal in the film and you’re supposed to feel emotionally compromised, but you aren’t and that’s largely because you forget who was the one who actually did the deed.
The film’s ultimate sin is that it never allows room for anything to breathe. Winslet has to establish a commanding villainous presence in a handful of scenes and because she’s so great, she manages to do so, even though the writing for her is so remarkably thin. The romance between Woodley and Theo James is so quick it reminds me of Romeo & Juliet and not in a good way. There’s a dull drabness throughout the entire movie that bombards you over the head with “Look, this is a bad society!” There’s an inherent logical flaw in the societal structure, with no explanations provided to who does the basic jobs. Are the baristas all part-time students, too? And if you, like me, get stuck in that loop of lack of logic, this mishmash (with some awesome sequences, to be honest) between The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, and various other properties will become even more difficult to watch. And there’s three more of them.
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Directed by: Neil Burger
Produced by: Douglas Wick, Lucy Fisher, Pouya Shabazian
Screenplay by: Evan Daugherty, Vanessa Taylor
Based On: Divergent by Veronica Roth
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Ashley Judd, Jai Courtney, Ray Stevenson, Zoë Kravitz, Miles Teller, Tony Goldwyn, Ansel Elgort, Maggie Q, Kate Winslet
Music: Junkie XL
Cinematography: Alwin H. Küchler
Editing: Richard Francis-Bruce, Nancy Richardson
Production Company: Red Wagon Entertainment, Summit Entertainment
Distributor: Lionsgate, Summit Entertainment
Running Time: 139 minutes
Release Dates: March 18, 2014 (Los Angeles Premiere), March 21, 2014 (United States)
Image Courtesy: Divergent the Movie