Saturday, December 27, 2014


We watched Divergent on HBO recently. It's yet another of the ever-growing Young Adults in Dystopia genre, and the first of yet another trilogy, this adapted from the novels of Veronica Roth. The movie didn't meet with much critical acclaim.

Ingredients are as per popular YA in Dystopia recipe: Young female (or male) heroic figure, set in a city or country in post-war, post-environmental catastrophe, or amid some pre- or post-apocalyptic state of affairs. Visions of the future in YA novels are always dark and post-something nasty. Whether such scenarios are meant as an allegory for general adolescent and teenage angst, or as a precient peep into the future by the authors of these novels and the movie-makers, is up to audiences to decide, if they even think that deeply about what they've watched or read.

Divergent is pretty run-of-the-mill YA dystopian fare. Husband wasn't keen on it, while I quite liked the movie. An astrologically-tinted lens applied to some parts of the storyline is an interesting experiment.

The story is set in a walled-in, devastated, Chicago. (Nothing is mentioned about other parts of the USA, or indeed other parts of the world - perhaps the novel or sequel enlightens readers on this front). The city's population is segregated into "factions", determined by individual temperament. People within each faction provide the service for which they are best fitted, personality-wise. The factions are: Abnegation (public servants - they pretty much run things for the community); Erudite (highly intelligent egg-heads who would like to overthrow Abnegation's seeming seniority); Amity (the farmers and peace lovers); Candor (lawyers, judges); and Dauntless (the brave and fearless "protectors").

At age 16, after going through some techno-assisted aptitude testing, each person must decide to which faction they choose to belong - for life. To be outside of these distinct factions is a definite no-no. Factionless individuals, those who decline to belong to a single faction, or are thrown out of the faction they chose at age 16, are relegated to remain a part of a poor, hungry, and homeless group.

Anyone with a "feel" for astrology might understand why I soon began, from time to time, viewing the movie through a wider, astrologically-slanted lens. The humors: sanguine, choleric, phlegmatic, melancholic ; the elements: Earth, Fire, Air, Water; the modes: Cardinal, Fixed, Mutable; and, naturally: "What's your sign?" Human nature, identity, conformity..... labels. Labels can be useful, but are never a good thing when taken to extremes, ignoring diversity.

This, first film of the trilogy, sets the scene. We watch development of the young heroine, Beatrice, who comes from an Abnegation family. At age 16, somewhat conflicted, she chooses to join the Dauntless faction and changes her name to Triss. We're taken through her initiation and training, her learning to confront and deal with her inner fears. We meet her Dauntless companions, some of whom are clearly sociopaths! We also meet the Erudite faction's leader, Jeanine - another version of Thatcher/Clinton/Wicked Witch of the West, this time played by Kate Winslet.

Ms Winslet is one of a couple of slightly older and more widely known star names in the cast, no doubt included to entice adult bums onto cinema seats. Ashley Judd is the other, playing Beatrice's mother. The rest of the cast were new to me, including the lead actress Shailene Woodley, and her love interest (well there always has to be one) Theo James, who I would have recognised had I been a fan of Downton Abbey. Full cast list HERE. The two young leads played their parts very well, I thought.

Beatrice/Triss has no sociopathic tendencies, she doesn't fit in completely with the Dauntless faction - this is something gradually realised by her, as well as by shrewder members of the Dauntless leadership. I'll reveal no more detail, except to say that the film's title describes its heroine, and others who have become factionless, the Divergents, and are feared by leaderships because of their ability to think and act differently from those whose diversity of thought and skill have become stunted by continued segregation and manipulation.

Whether young adult audiences will watch this film and realise that, as well as a tale of a young woman's rite of passage, padded by a mild love story, there's a not very veiled criticism going on, an allegorical representation of some of today's problems. A potentially menacing whisper of what it would be like to live under a totally controlling leadership is there for any paying attention.

Jeanine (Thatcher/Clinton/Wicked Witch of West) says more than once during the movie that the original plan to segregate the city's population came about because of human nature. Human nature had been responsible for the horrendous war that left the city (and presumably the world) in such a calamitous state . I have to, reluctantly, agree with Jeanine on this point. I've often written on this blog that human nature (which astrologers contend is brought about by the place planet Earth has in our galaxy, and perhaps in the universe as a whole) is at the heart of our troubles.

No doubt, initially, segregation was tried with good intention, but arrangements and rules had been allowed to become too extreme, overly authoritarian - human nature at work again. (They say, "You can't fight city hall" - even less human nature!) The city had become nothing less than a fascist regime, using social engineering, mind manipulation via chemicals, and no doubt other nasties, possibly to be revealed in sequels. Chemically-induced mind manipulation was at its worst in Divergent's version of dystopia when used on members of the Dauntless faction (supposedly the brave and fearless "protectors") to force them to follow orders - orders which would result in genocide - or at least in "factionicide".

Divergent uses elements which have appeared in just about any other Young Adults in Dystopia movie or book one could name, whether of the blockbuster or lesser-known variety. While it's interesting to discover how many different ways there can be of cobbling these elements together, it'll surely soon be time to create some new ideas and fresh material!


mike said...

I'm with anyjazz, and I haven't seen the movie. Sounds trite and contrived...another social order shockumentary pronouncement of the future that happens to parallel the pieces of our current lives if we all don't straighten-out.

My Gemini ascendant already lives in a berserk world gone wrong thousands of years ago and my mood is for the lighter stuff. The REAL world dystopia of today is burdensome enough. The one nice outcome of the book-movie versions of future dystopia is that there is typically a resolving outcome that allows a heroic leap forward for humans. The older I become, the more I see this Earthly paradise as an unresolvable Dante's Inferno.

I'm excited about attending a real theater movie! A neighbor and I are going to see "Big Eyes" in a week or two...after kids are back in school and adults finish the holidays. This will be the first movie-on-the-big-screen for me in many years...maybe nine or ten years. Wish me luck.

Twilight said...

mike ~ "Trite and contrived" would be the appropriate verdict for more mature members of Divergent's audiences to arrive at. I'll accept that, while still finding the film interesting myself (maybe I still have a way to go before reaching your and anyjazz's level of (ahem)...sophistication. ;-) (Titters).

Yep, the world's a lunatic asylum - The Cheshire Cat was absolutely correct when he said "We're all mad here..."

Oh good - you'll be able to let us know about "Big Eyes" - it'll never reach our cinema here, but we might get to see it via DVD or Netflix or whatever. I hope you enjoy the theatre experience. There were some 30 or more years when I didn't ever enter a cinema - but I greatly enjoyed re-visiting the experience - eventually.

mike (again) said...

LOL, Twilight...I wouldn't call it sophistication (I'm rarely accused of that!), but instead, a personal preference. I often lock myself into predetermined decisions about something, without having the benefit of the actual experience. My fixed Scorpio stellium likes that, along with my Jupiter and Pluto, likewise in other fixed signs.

Once in a while, I'll relinquish and allow my Mars in Sagittarius out of the box and I'll discover to my surprise that I enjoyed an impromptu romp in the unknown. Some of my favorite authors wrote books that I would never have believed were fitting to my tastes, but completely won me over once I indulged in their prose.

Several months ago, I tried to find Donna Tartt's Pulitzer winner, "Goldfinch". Couldn't find it, so I settled for her first book, "The Secret History", though I very much questioned my decision based on the cover's description, which made me flinch. I couldn't put it down once I started and was very sorry it ended. I did the same thing with Clive Barker's macabre writing several years ago, but I've read every book of his now, and have enjoyed each, regardless of the blood and raunch. Go figure.

Twilight said...

mike (again) ~ Well, let's say personal preference led by what Wiki calls recognised varieties of sophistication: "cultural sophistication or intellectual sophistication". (I must hide this from the eyes of anyjazz - I can't be doing with any airs and graces it might bring on!) ;-)

I'm often accused of locking myself into predetermined decisions too - anyjazz is always amazed when I take one look through the doors of a store, or at a rack of clothing, or the cover of a book, or a two-line synopsis of something or other, or the first chapter of a book, and declare it "NOT FOR ME!"

"But how do you know?" he'll ask. "I just know!" is my response - and I always do. LOL!

Like you I have certain lock-ins to Fixed signs (one planet in all of them). But I do have planets in Mutable and Cardinal signs too - so...a crazy mix-up.'