Director: Neil Burger
Writer: Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor
Cinematography: Alwin H. Küchler
by Jon Cvack
I wasn’t expecting much given how poor the recent crop of young adult sci-films has been, but I really enjoyed this movie. And to think that such a simple idea was authored by someone who didn’t even graduate college yet is all the more encouraging to aspiring writers out there (or frustrating depending on your age). Keep It Simple Stupid.
I’ve used this movie in an ongoing debate about whether intelligent life could ever exist in perpetuity without destroying themselves. The thought is simple - intelligent life will always desire the best form of government, but intelligent life will always have conflicting ideas as to what constitutes “best”. As a result, most advanced systems will deal with self-extinction as intelligent people will forever be willing to fight for what they think is right and just. Whether through environmental destruction, A.I., or advanced weaponry, I don’t believe many will progress all that far in the grand clock of our universe. The conflicts will eventually destroy the planet, or the planet might limit increased advancement. Such a view is extremely cynical, I agree, but can we really imagine a world where there won’t be some crazy out there who’s hellbent on destroying what they fundamentally disagree with, whether based on economics, religion, or politics? I’m sure there are a few intelligent planets who are amongst the few to survive. And perhaps a few others will follow. I just don’t think it’s a strong possibility. Just as intelligent life itself is a rarity, the ability to create a peaceful world seems equally rare and difficult, and with technologies that could destroy the planet - whether Nuclear or Artificial Intelligence - I’m just not too positive. Just as we have Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk warning against the dangers of AI, other intelligents planets will have their presentiments - some that will be ignored, some that won’t.
It all connects to back to Divergent's dystopian setting. Something happened to the world and Chicago has now rearranged itself toward self-governance. There are five factions that the citizens belong to, and after undergoing a strange psychological test, kids decide which faction they wish to enter, whether the test says they should or not. I won’t refer to the faction names that the author opted into, since their meaning is less obvious than just using simpler descriptions and became confusing to the point of distraction (this was one forgivable problem I had. While the names do fit, and it makes sense they'd be created, they seem like 25 cent words that were researched from a thesaurus for a few minutes to elevate the material).
In laymen terms the facts are: the selfless, the honest, the brave, the peaceful, and the intelligent. There's also an external, meta-faction called Divergent (more on that later). The world is currently ruled by the Selfless since they will - in a very Rawlsian manner - always think of others before thinking of themselves. And this is where it gets interesting. After the recent graduation, the Intelligent have decided to team up with the Brave in order to cease such power from the Selfless.
This is where the film gets interesting. At one time having the Selfless govern made sense and was operable and accepted. Thus, intelligent people could go to their own faction and be fine. That is, until their intelligence causes them to discover alternative philosophies and strategies that could also work and increasingly benefit them, some of whom don’t see a reason for the Selfless to have such great power - or even exist at all. Thus, the Intelligent form an alliance with the Brave to take control of the government. We don’t know what their motive is and to be honest, this is where I get nervous. So often this resides in money or power so I’m hoping that the sequels will have something more fruitful (I haven’t yet seen the sequel, which is suppose to be terrible, but this film also had a low RT rating so maybe it’s worth checking out).
Of course there’s a girl and a guy who are both part of what's called Divergent, which I guess is the superhero version of all five of these factions. The couple falls in love and discover the coup about to take place and save the city. Let’s just say the plot’s less interesting than the overarching philosophy and the characters. It’s not a bunch of kids trying to kill one another in an overly serious manner (see Ender’s Game and of course The Hunger Games), but there is a cut throat philosophy as each faction tries to get ahead and do what’s best for them, thus demonstrating the inherent problems of government.
However, the biggest risk any citizen faces is becoming Factionless, which is another term for homeless. Thankfully the Selfless take care of these individuals, but if the Selfless were overthrown then what? Of course this creates a bit of a hole in that for how simple it was to enter into the factions and how organized it all became, why would they allow a factionless-faction to exist at all? Why wouldn’t they just create another faction? Maybe it’ll be answered in the next one. Nevertheless, Divergent has a great mythology. It’s a smart, young adult film and I’ll check out the next eventually.
BELOW: The students choose their faction
Thoughts on films, old and new
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