How Orwellian is college? Very, if Divergent is to be believed. Adapted from Veronica Roth’s bestselling YA novel, it stars Shaylene Woodley as Beatrice a young 16-year-old girl trying to find her place in a world seemingly modelled on a series of giant Frat houses, each named after an abstract virtue or noun. There’s Amity, who farm the land Amish-style; there’s Abnegation, who think only of others and work in government; there’s Candor, who tell the truth, doubtless on course for a career in daytime TV; there’s Erudite, who like to show off their vocabulary but can’t for the life of them work out they are an adjective not a noun like everyone else. Finally there’s Dauntless, very much the Extreme Sports set, defined principly by their carelessness with regard to train timetables, since they always run, jump and leap for the train home to an accompaniment of Stomp-style drumming. These gonks are being groomed for jobs in the military although how you would get them to show up on the battlefield is anyone’s guess. I’ve seen better discipline in the Keystone cops. Beatrice, who wears baggy skirts, boots and her hair in a loose bun like an Emily Bronte Fan, jumps ship at her initiation ceremony and choses Dauntless over her native Abnegation, and very soon, she is running and jumping for moving trains, too, all the while harboring a secret: her aptitude test revealed her to be “divergent”, a freakish original thinker, fated to be hunted and killed if she is ever found out. Quite why she faces this drastic a penalty, given that the rest of Roth’s future society seems wholly bent to the task of identifying and nurturing the skill-sets of its teenagers is hard to fathom. Roth has filled out her world without thinking it through as a dramatic space. She's built a utopia that thinks itself a dystopia. “They built fences for a reason,” Beatrice is told, which in any other story would be a prelude to monsters, but no more is heard of it. Instead, the bulk of this 2 hour and 40 minute film is taken up with an endless slog of evaluations and physical aptitude tests in smoky, diffusely lit interiors that look like a Bill Fitzgibbons art installation. Director Neil Burger amps up every snap crackle and pop but there’s no escaping the fact: what we have is science fiction that devotes its considerable resources to imagining the future of SAT tests. Maybe that’s why Winston Smith went AWOL: a droopy grade point average.
Mar 21, 2014
REVIEW: DIVERGENT (dir. Burger)
From my Guardian review:—