Divergent is the newest release in an ever-expanding meta-genre of films that most movie-goers will link to turds such as the Twilight Saga. I have room to speak here… I’ve actually seen all of the Twilight films, and yes, they were that bad, which is really kind of a shame for Robert Pattinson, as he proved his mettle playing Salvador Dali in 2008’s Little Ashes. But I digress. Was Divergent good? No. It was excellent, better than The Hunger Games even, and here’s why.
Directed by Neil Burger (a guy who has barely done anything outside of the indie spectrum) and based on a series of books by Veronica Roth (a woman who hasn’t really written anything else), this movie stands out just by way of the building blocks that went into it. The casting choices echo this by breaking with the Hollywood norm and going with some well-known faces in supporting and even insignificant roles. The lead roles went to the up-and-comer Shailene Woodley and “who the hell is that guy?” Theo James, both of them effectively stepping into their characters and really contributing to the roles. Kate Winslet as authoritarian psychopath Jeanine Matthews, however, was the standout performance for me. Because of the inherent hypocrisy in so many mainstream films, I usually find myself rooting for the bad guy… this woman, though, I wanted to slap with a large trout. What a baditch! My God. Anyway.
While the theme itself ranges from your typical coming-of-age to your “conformity is bad” dystopian cliché, it crafts itself around the experiences of the characters within those environments, rather than the metaphors that might come to mind while watching it. There’s a love story, but it’s subdued rather than blown out of proportion (quick, check for flying pigs…). Even the minor characters have personality and are inherently flawed, making the smallest changes in the film worthy of some sort of emotional impact. There are characters that I can’t even name, but could easily recall what they were like. People rise and fall here, but less predictably at times than one might expect. It’s like I’ve told my wife: Star Trek is not about spaceships, it’s about people who happen to be on spaceships. And in that same sense, Divergent is not about the future they live in, but the people living it.
While there wasn’t an Oscar-worthy performance (also known as “over the top and full of tears”) and it may never be called a classic, this was a genuinely solid film that didn’t wholly pander to mainstream predictability or ignorance in order to progress. As someone who never expects anything to be good at the theater, this was an awesome surprise—and will especially be so for any die hard science-fiction fans. Divergent is the kind of film production where they took the time to pinch Woodley’s nose while doing dialog replacement in the studio so she’d sound properly stuffed up while crying. I don’t know about you, but that’s the sort of careful crafting I really respect, and this film is full of it. If the way this was made were used as a model for future Hollywood productions, I know I’d be seeing a hell of a lot more movies.
By Johnny Beaver