That term first came to my mind when, as a child, I’d try to say “stream of consciousness” and end up with “brainflow.” It seems to fit here.

Welcome to the ramblings of my mind. (For now, these ones revolve mostly around films.)

Divergent (feat. Isaac and Jonathan Walberg)

Monday, March 24th, 2014 11:39 am—Film

Divergent (USA 2014, Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi), Writers: Evan Daugherty, Vanessa Taylor; Director: Neil Burger

This Divergent review comes at the request of my eldest nephew, 11-year-old Jonathan. Together, we reviewed The Hunger Games and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, with his younger brother Isaac joining us for the second adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ franchise. So I guess Jon got a taste for it, which is pretty cool. And since I passed on reviewing the Ender’s Game adaptation with him, what kind of an aunt would I be if I didn’t step up for Jon’s next request?

Given that it was his idea, I wanted Jon to have a more active voice in this review, so I tasked him with outlining Divergent’s plot: “It’s about a dystopian society where, at age 16, children take a test to see what category they fit in. Everyone fits into one thing only, except those people who fit into more than one, who are called Divergent. Some people see them as a threat to the society. So the movie is about someone who is Divergent.”

Well said, Jon! To that I’ll add that the categories, or factions, are Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless and Erudite, and that the Divergent person who shows traits from multiple factions is Tris Prior (the excellent Shailene Woodley).

Divergent is based on the novel of the same name, which is part of a trilogy by Veronica Roth. The series draws obvious parallels to The Hunger Games franchise, among them: a strong young female protagonist who exists in a dystopian future and who helps lead the charge against a controlling system that denies individuality and restricts civil liberties; an ardent following at my nephews’ house; and, according to Jon, “really good first two books and horrible third books.” (His words, not mine; I still haven’t read the other books in the Divergent series, Insurgent and Allegiant.)

I prefer The Hunger Games, both in the story and in the telling. On top of what else the series explores, I find its additional commentary on our fixation with appearances, celebrity and others’ lives adds a significant point of interest, not to mention how well the reality show slant lends itself to a visual adaptation. And although I appreciate the notions Divergent explores, like our need to label people and the desire to conform, its world is somewhat underdeveloped.

My nephews think otherwise. (Evidently we diverge.) Both Jon and Isaac prefer Divergent to The Hunger Games adaptations, although they’re still big fans of both series. (And I still like Divergent, on the whole.)

Divergent was really good,” says Jon. “I would say I liked it a bit better than The Hunger Games because it followed the book and they did everything really well. The actors were really good. For both series, the main idea of the plot is really interesting but I found Divergent way more action-packed.”

The movie does take some liberties with the novel, smoothing out a few of the rougher, non-PG-13 bits, removing or downsizing some extraneous characters and, in particular, shaking up the ending a little. But generally, I agree with Jon that the film follows the book quite closely—sometimes to its detriment. It felt a bit like the movie was plodding through each plot point; it was too long and not as well paced as The Hunger Games.

Jon, however, takes no issue with that. He likes that the movie has “no surprises” and is “almost exactly like the book.” He doesn’t find that boring, but rather a testament to its strength as an adaptation.

Isaac, now 10, read the book when he was eight, so he doesn’t remember it very well. His appreciation for the movie stems less from how faithfully it follows the book and more from the premise itself. “I liked Divergent a bit better than The Hunger Games because I think I like the idea better—choosing where you belong vs. playing games to the death,” he says. (Not that Isaac is opposed to violence in general; he also says “I liked when Four [the Dauntless trainer and Tris’ love interest, played by Theo James] beats people up.”)

Jon is a fan of Four, too, although he says Four was the only character who didn’t turn out the way he pictured him in the book. “There’s another book, called Lorien Legacies, where there’s a character name Four,” says Jon. “I pictured him like that guy.”

Four prompts an interesting insight from Jon about the (slim) illusion of choice created by the founders and governors of Divergent’s Chicago, where the story is set. “As Four was saying, he wants to be everything,” says Jon, referring to the scene when Four admits he wants to embrace the traits of all five factions rather than be only one thing. “So it’s like all the people are given the option to choose what faction they want to be in when they’re 16, so it’s almost like freedom. Except it’s not freedom because they can’t be more than one thing.”

I ask Jon and Isaac which faction they would choose if they had to pick one. “I did an actual test on the computer, the Divergent Aptitude Test, and I was Divergent,” says Jon. I tell him that’s probably the point of the test; beyond pure publicity, it aims to reinforce the trilogy’s lesson that we are all more than just one thing. “Yeah,” he says, “almost everyone who takes the test is Divergent. I was Divergent for the exact same things that Tris was in the movie.” (That would be Dauntless and Erudite, as well as her birth-faction, Abnegation.)

If Jon HAD to choose a faction, he says, “Amity would probably be the safest.” But “if Dauntless didn’t have that rule that if you’re below the line [i.e., don’t make the cut during initiation], you’re out, then it would be pretty awesome.”

Isaac has a similar thought. “I’d want to be in Divergent—but does that count or not?” he asks. Assuming it doesn’t count, he says, “If there wasn’t the ‘below the line, you’re out’ rule for Dauntless, I would be that. It’s the most fun.”

I ask Isaac if he would want to live in a world divided so rigidly by factions, and he says, “I would never want that to happen. I wouldn’t like that. I like how it is right now in real life. But it would be cool to try it out for a day, or something like that.”

As long as it’s just at the movies.

*            *            *

Thank you to Isaac and Jonathan for joining me once again in a movie review, and to their parents for helping arrange the interviews!

4 Responses

  1. Catherine Jensen

    Congratulations all three for an interesting insight into these books and films and what they reflect of some of our human preoccupations. How wonderful to read impressions and to consider divergent points of view from people of all ages. Thank you Isaac, Jonathan and Amanda!

  2. amanda

    Thanks, Catherine! I love getting the nephews’ insights on movies.

  3. jonathan walberg

    Great can you do a review on the book SYLO with Jonathan Walberg? PS He is awesome. PPS Can you also do the Indian in the Closet series?

  4. amanda

    Hey Jon, glad you liked the review. 😉 I’m not familiar with SYLO or Indian in the Closet, do you mean Indian in the Cupboard? We’ll have to pace ourselves but we can definitely do some others. Let me know which one’s coming out first, SYLO or the other one. Thanks for the recommendations!

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