Monday, March 24, 2014

"Divergent": Being unlabeled means being different, which means being dangerous to the powers that be

After my 2001 layoff, I took enough personality tests online, and was briefed on Myers Briggs during the outplacement process.  There’s nothing new about classifying people or pinning labels on them.  Maybe the ultimate system was the “polarities” of Paul Rosenfels – personality types on a matrix of masculine and feminine, and then objective and subjective, with all combinations.

In “Divergent” (directed by Neil Burger), based on the young adult novel by Veronica Roth, there are five classes: erudite, amity (mostly farmers), candid, dauntless, and abnegated.  The last of these, supposedly selfless, administer this post-apocalyptic Chicago where Lake Michigan has drained and grown in.  Even teenager takes an intrusive medical test to determine which class they belong in, but everyone is allowed to choose a different one. 

The heroine, Tris (Shailene Woodley) gets an inconclusive test result, and is told she should choose her parents’ class, abnegation. Instead, she rebels and chooses dauntless. She also told about a community “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for divergents.  Because society fears them, they are hunted down and are mostly homeless.  (It’s not hard to see the parallel with the situation of homosexuals in Uganda, Nigeria, and Putin’s Russia.)   It’s hard to see why, as she is hardly up to things physically for a while. Eventually, her “divergence” gives her the edge needed to pass the tests her own way, although her instructor Four (Theo James) tries to pressure her to conform. Their training recalls Army Basic, and the shared bunking (and co-ed) seems like an obvious commentary on women in combat and also on the defrocked military "don't ask, don't tell" policy for gays.  It's noteworthy also that being a "dauntless" does require "volunteering"; there is no conscription as such. 

It shouldn’t be a surprise that there is a chance for hidden romance.  Or that Four is Divergent himself.  One of the tests insists of injection of a mind-reading drug in the neck.  In one test, Four attempts intimacy with her.  That’s a good parallel to my own screenplay “The Sub” where a character is tested by temptation, but where the level of reality is uncertain.  In her case, she repels him even in this imaginary world.  In my screenplay, the protagonist doesn’t have the same self discipline – leading to what I’ve called the “implicit content” problem.

Tris has a good looking brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort), an erudite who informs her of a plot for the erudites to seize control from the abnegated.  Caleb is certainly one of the more likable characters (after Four); Hero Complex in the LA Times gives Elgort's own comments on the role here.  But likewise impressive is dauntless Peter (Miles Teller), even if one of Tris’s competitors.  Ashley Judd and Tony Goldwyn play the parents.   Aussie Jai Courtney is rather tattooed up. Kate Winslet seems up to playing the role of a female Putin.

The official Facebook site is here.  Webroot warns me on the official site from Summit Entertainment, but I can’t tell what it thinks is wrong with it.

What makes you different makes you dangerous! But does it make you deviant? It certainly makes you "factionless". Or, the world belongs to those who know who they are, or who accept where they belong? 
The movie does make obvious references to predecessors, including “The Birds”, and, of course, “Inception”, although the parallel to the latter is rather incomplete.

Most of my friends (social media and real life) and most of the artists I review often in my blogs are Divergent.  Erudite and Candid seem to be their strongest qualities, with some fearlessness.  Maybe you have to be dauntless to write and sing a song asking people to imagine you naked.  

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