MovieBob - Intermission
Divergent? More Like "Why-Vergent"

Bob Chipman | 21 Mar 2014 12:00
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I try to give Young Adult Fiction (and, to a lesser extent, movies based on the same) a wide berth when it comes to formula and cliche. By definition, it's unlikely that their target audience has had the life experience (or time) to experience a cultural backlog sufficient to notice lack of originality. While one can debate whether or not they deserve better, this has kind of always been true.

By now, it's getting pretty hard to ignore just how lazy the genre has become. I understand that "retrofit overused sci-fi/fantasy setting into an obvious metaphor for adolescence and/or the American high school caste system" is a proven formula. But would it kill these authors and filmmakers to at least feign a desire toward sticking out from the pack - especially since that's so often the ham-fisted moral of their needlessly-overlong multivolume claptrap?

Case in point: Divergent adorns its skeleton of "Dystopian YA Sci-Fi" formula with so little in the way of new ideas it makes The Hunger Games look like Cloud Atlas. The bald-faced obviousness of its "Our Crummy Future = Your Crummy High School Life" is so lacking in self-awareness the Harry Potter series' absence of pretense in simply being set in a school feels retroactively brazen in comparison.


Our setting: A post-apocalyptic, mostly-ruined future Earth where the only documents to survive The Fall were apparently an Archie Double-Digest and a DVD of She's All That. Protected by a mile-high electric fence around the ruins of (I think) Chicago, the last outpost of humanity has been organized into a five-faction caste-system based on somebody's hazy memory of High School cafeteria seating. You can be a Nerd, Jock, Farmer, Lawyer or Gandhi. Yes, they have actual names, but pretending that the cheesy "Because it's the future!" naming-schemes in these things are worth committing to memory is a courtesy I can no longer indulge. Divergent's sole stab at novelty is that this time (SPOILER!) the good guys are The Jocks and The Nerds turn out to be the villains.

Our heroine is Shailene Woodley, aka the new Jennifer Lawrence. (Man, we're burning through "Conventionally Attractive Yet Approachable Chicks Who Still Seem Cool And Like They'd Totally 'Get' You" fast these days, huh? Has anyone checked up on Emma Stone at the Old Folks Home?) She plays "Tris," who was born Team Gandhi but dreams of being Team Jock because they get to learn extreme sports and do all the soldiering and policing. Regardless of heritage, y'see, as soon as children in Generic Dystopia #4,273 reach the age they can engage in Young Adult Sexytimes without squicking out the audience they get a medical test that will determine which caste they're best suited to...

...and then immediately go to an entirely separate ceremony where they can just pick whatever allegiance they want regardless. Um, what? So why even have the first test? If all it does is function as a blunt metaphor for guidance counseling and/or the SATs then why make a big secretive thing out of it instead of just peeing on an applicator or something?

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