You’re different. You don’t fit into a category. They can’t control you. They call it Divergent. You can’t let them find out about you. (Tori speaking to Tris).
Every week, readers send me their unpopular opinions, and on Unopinionated, I explain why they’re unpopular in the first place.
From my inbox: “Here’s an unpopular opinion. Divergent is better than Hunger Games. There, I said it.” – Katie
Comparing these two films is obvious, mostly because Lions Gate Entertainment practically begged fans of Hunger Games to show up for their next young adult dystopia franchise in 2014. Based on a best-selling trilogy by Veronica Roth, Divergent is arguably better than the source material, but that’s not saying much.
The premise of Divergent is pretty much where the trouble starts. Years after an apocalyptic event nearly levels the world, a somewhat rebuilt Chicago has become home to a new, simplified caste system unapologetically inconsistent with nouns and adjectives.
The Amity faction is made up of happy farmers who live outside the city, Erudite holds the city’s intellectuals, Candor are honest and determine the law, Abnegation are selfless and drive the government, and Dauntless are the brave soldiers who protect everyone.
The future belongs to those who know where they belong. -Jeanine
All people are born into a faction that characterizes one of these personality traits in which they’re most dominant, and when they come of age, these adolescents can choose to join another faction after taking what amounts to a personality test.
This is all fairly reminiscent of the Sorting Hat in Harry Potter, but while that more mystical and even mysterious element of the Hogwarts house system was more of an aside to the central plot, Divergentattempts to build an entire narrative around how our personalities divide us. While not a bad concept in theory, it’s immediately overwrought by a plot that never moves on from its initial principle, which isn’t even that interesting to begin with.
The main character, Tris (played by Shailene Woodley in her breakout role), craves a life beyond the plain Abnegation, the faction she was born into. She gets her wish when she discovers she’s “divergent,” meaning she fits into too many factions.
In other words, she’s too special because no one gets her. As if.
Don’t try and define me. – Tris
Tris joins Dauntless, much to everyone’s surprise, fueling the only narrative within Divergent that has some meaningful entertainment. A step up from typical High School movies, Tris has to overcome her literal fears in order to survive fitting into a group of young adults she previously had nothing in common with. All while dodging the inconvenience of her status as a divergent, making her a target if the secret gets out.
There are genuine thrills and absorbing moments to be had while watching Tris bond with the recruits and mainstays of the more free-wheeling Dauntless, especially within the commentary of a city trying to rebuild itself with harsher rules and regulations.
But the payoff is too familiar and derivative to contribute anything meaningful to dystopian epics for this age range. Rather than provide something novel to Tris’s character and how she fits into a new world, the film jerks backward to make this about oppressive, authoritarian adults messing up everything.
Having a “chosen one” in any given story is a quick way to ramp up the mediocrity in storytelling. Harry Potter cleverly sidesteps this by shifting focus to how special the villain is, making him an equally important shade of the titular boy wizard. Hunger Games turns this trope on its head by making the “chosen one” special only in the eyes of the masses being manipulated into war, a far more interesting culture point.
Fear does something strange to people like Al. But not you. Fear doesn’t shut you down, it wakes you up. – Four
But Divergent has nothing interesting to give its “chosen one” except that she has too many dominant personality traits. There’s nothing else to Tris’s character that shapes her decisions and struggles to move through the plot. She’s simply special because the script demands it, and this is too obvious for most moviegoers.
On the other hand, it’s not clear that denser lore would have improved anything. The world of Divergent is already stuffed with uninspired naming conventions and quirks that beat the moviegoer over the head with reminders that they’re watching a movie created for kids.
Fans of the books have plenty to love in Divergent, as it’s a streamlined improvement over the schlock writing that inspired it. And it certainly has some entertaining moments that keep the story moving. But at this point, fans of the genre have plenty of options superior to an empty psychology lecture.
Do you have an unpopular opinion you want challenged? Let me know in the comments and I’ll take it on in a future Unopinionated article. Or you can email firstname.lastname@example.org
I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni