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May 14, 2014

‘Divergent’ another book series to come to film

Wednesday, May 14, 2014 — I have written previously about how I had read each of the “Harry Potter” books before the corresponding film was released. I also read the first “Hunger Games” book before seeing the movie, but did not make that choice with the second one. I decided to be surprised by the plot, and I was. I did not even consider reading “Divergent” before the film was released, so I went into this latest “book series becomes movie” with no more knowledge of the plot than one could glean from the trailer.  

Here is what I discovered. First, I am intrigued by much of the social commentary presented in this film. There are some complex ideas in this story, ones that I have pondered often since seeing the film. In this post-apocalyptic world, one’s life is determined by skills, heredity and choice. But what if the system is flawed? What if it does not work perfectly for all? There are a lot of intriguing and compelling questions raised by the film, though there is not always a lot of time to consider any of these ideas.

Which brings me to my second discovery. About 40 minutes into the film, I realized that it was humming along at a rapid rate. The constant action moves the film through one development to another with little time to stop and think about what is on screen. And to my surprise I liked the pace of the early scenes. One can think about the ideas later and just go with the speed of the film in the moment, and that is what I did. I actually thought to myself, “This is a fast film, but I like the tempo.”

But then it slowed. Which brings me to my third point. After the opening third of the film, it seems to lag. Suddenly, “Divergent” is not moving as fast as before and moments between the action sequences create time to think about inconsistencies and questions that are raised by the plot. Several issues erupted in my head as I began to think, I do not like this as much as I originally did.  

Then the film speeds back up with a conclusion filled with action and resolution, at least as much resolution as the first film in a projected series can allow. And when the credits rolled, I was satisfied at least somewhat.  

Again, I do not know if the film was true to the source material. I am sure the filmmakers left things out and perhaps added some details. But there is certainly enough here to offer praise: compelling ideas, great pacing and the first and final thirds of the film, fine performances by the young cast and a great look to the film. As far as futuristic war-torn cities go, “Divergent” does the art direction and set design as well as any film I can remember recently. I especially liked the sequences with the trains and the dreams.

Finally, there is the question most people will ask themselves if they consider the film at all post-viewing:  which of the five sub-groups would be my destiny or would I be a “Divergent?” I know I have thought about that every time I reflect upon the film. For that reason, I recommend it to anyone who likes this kind of film: teenagers struggling for survival in an apocalyptic future with extremely radical laws. “Divergent” is not as fun, moving or smart as the “Hunger Games,” but it is worth a ticket, any film that inspires thought, as this one does, is at least worth that.

      

Roger Thomas is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association. He reviews films for The Stanly News & Press.

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