There’s no way to be nice to Divergent. Just as there’s no way to be nice to the Twilight saga or any bad teen drama before it with unsubtle Christian overtones.
Doe-eyed Tris (Shailene Woodley) lives, as we’ve all come to expect by now, in a dystopian future.
(All these Dystopian future movies are stoking the Religious Right’s growing decentralist distrust of government. I’m sure Britney somwhere with her promise ring and Teen Bible is feeling super threatened and oppressed right now by gays and black people and The New York Times. Britney probably loved this movie.)
The film is structured as a series of challenges Tris must face to reach a final showdown (kinda like that other franchise with a strong female lead and a crossbow). There’s a sexy stud named Four (Theo James, my god) who she locks lips with along the way.
This anti-state teen lit seems is in vogue right now, but it’s not new: Alan Moore’s V For Vendetta, Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun, Orwell’s 1984 and Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 were all on my high school reading list when I was feeling angsty and subversive.
These are powerful, dangerous books that everyone should read. All have been banned by some censoring institution at some point.
Hunger Games, for all its pop-culture pomp, is the new round of resistance fiction. But there’s something in Divergent that doesn’t sit well with me.
Divergent is based on the novel of the same name by Veronica Roth, a self-professed Christian. In his brilliant review, David Edelstein notes the book’s treatment of intellectuals. One of the “classes” that people in the book can choose to be a part of, “Erudite,” the intellectual arm of society, are largely depicted as control-hungry villains pitted against the “Abnegation” class; the righteous, self-abasing, merciful servants of society.
In other words, the Christians.
Intellectuals have always been a threat (real and perceived) to religion. Edelstein writes: “The novelist, Veronica Roth, reserves her loathing for the ‘Erudites’, who spend their days in intellectual pursuit. She appears to be one in a long line of religious conservatives (her first acknowledgement is to God, ‘for your Son’) who think there’s nothing more dangerous than intellectualism, which makes people apt to seize power and impose Maoist-like uniformity on entire populations — on pain of death.”
Call me a liberal elite, but I like my intellectualism, and I feel safer among smart people than religious fanatics.
Like most college-educated, degree-wielding liberals I know, I’m smart enough to see that a healthy amount of government distrust is vital. Because the only thing more frightening than a bunch of angry tea-partiers getting mad about same-sex marriage and forming militias is the actual possibility of totalitarianism.
Huxley’s Brave New World warned us about a society that medicates and placates its citizens into subservience, a poignant message in today’s world of spin journalism and big pharma.
But that’s not Divergent. The movie, like the book it’s based on, is just a Christian cautionary tale against the smart people, our media, our president, and our progressive laws. I’m always amazed how people can feel oppressed by equality. They are usually the true oppressors.
Dismiss this bad fable with a bad script, but if you must see it for kicks, get a load of Four when he loses the shirt.