2014, Movies

Divergent (2014, Neil Burger)

YA science fiction movies are sooooo ridiculous. They’re all extremely similar in terms of plot and make the same obvious appeals to the vanity of young people. This one gets off to a gloriously unsubtle start, with a hilariously “high concept” post-apocalyptic society where there are inexplicable divisions that clearly don’t promote harmony but supposedly do. (They’re just high school cliques plus some nicer people thrown in.) This has echoes of all the other YA science fiction I’ve ever seen. Given that it was written in the teens rather than the ’90s or the aughts, the author likely cribbed a lot.


This is one of those films where I kind of wish I live tweeted it, because the set up is sooo YA and so ridiculous that it deserves active mocking. It’s hard to sum up the cliched nature of everything.

The big difference between this and so many of the other YA science fiction films is that the stakes are way, way lower here. It’s weird how much lower they are compared to The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner. I guess I don’t mean the stakes, as much as I mean the relative lack of complexity to the world and the relative conspiracy. All it is here is a mind control plot, not much else, as opposed to the elaborate worlds of the others.

The virtue of a less complicated world is that Divergent doesn’t necessarily get even dumber as it goes on, as The Maze Runner does, for example. But downside is that there isn’t much here: there’s a war between jocks and nerds and it turns out the jocks need to save the rest of us from the nerds, but on the special jocks who aren’t just jocks. (Don’t think about this too much. It’s a pretty awful view of people.)

I think one of the things that frustrates me so much about this stuff is the relative production values of these films, with the inanity of the story and characters. Much like the other YA science fiction I’ve seen, there’s money behind the effects and the film is populated by great actors in the adult roles. So what should be garbage is seemingly elevated to something that appears to be much nicer looking than garbage.

I find myself giving this one just a little bit more credit, even though it doesn’t deserve it, because it’s a relatively simple spin. It could be worse, is what I’m saying, and that’s a virtue in the YA science fiction space.


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