There are so many things I love about “Divergent,” I’ll go through the major points here.
The movie, in a nutshell, is about facing your fears. You get to watch a brave, smart, and compassionate female protagonist test and challenge herself again and again. You see her make choices, grow, and become her own person, a true leader. I write a lot about violence on Reel Girl, and how it is not comparable to sexualization. Narratives are metaphors, and just like in dreams, images express feelings. We, humans, experience universal emotions like fear and aggression. These are not “boy” feelings or “girl” feelings, they are just part of being alive. What is unique, or relatively unique, is what triggers these feelings in each of us. ‘Divergent’ addresses this specifically, by showing the characters go through their “fear landscapes” where they face their terrors and make choices. I loved that my daughter saw a female hero do this again and again.
Another thing that is so great about this movie is the romance. Four, the supporting male character, is in love with Tris because of her bravery. Her bravery makes her attractive. While we see so many narratives where males are celebrated for their attributes, females get defined by their “beauty.” Males have the reputation of being divorced from their feelings, but in my experience, it’s female characters– and of course, actual female people– who get a lifetime of training in experiencing their own bodies as objects and accessories, separate from who they are. ‘Divergent’ is a narrative where the heroine is integrated and unified– body, mind, and soul– and that is rare to see. When you watch the movie, you will understand, how literally Tris defies allowing herself to be fractured into separate factions.
Shailene Woodley made a comment which I loved, differentiating the love story in ‘Divergent’ from ‘Twilight:’
Twilight, I’m sorry, is about a very unhealthy, toxic relationship. [The protagonist Bella] falls in love with this guy and the second he leaves her, her life is over and she’s going to kill herself! What message are we sending to young people? That is not going to help this world evolve.”
On one of my favorite blogs, Women and Hollywood, Melissa Silverstein chided Woodley for that comment, stating without ‘Twilight’ proving movies based on YA novels with female protagonists can make money, ‘Divergent’ would not exist as a film. While that may be true, I don’t think Woodley was speaking from a business perspective, but from her heart about how different the love stories are in these two movies.
A third aspect of the movie that is great is Natalie, the mother of Tris, played by Ashley Judd.
Judd’s part is small as far as screen time, but some of my favorite scenes in the movie were watching mom and daughter work together to save the world. Again, how often do we get to see that?
Kate Winslet as the evil Jeanine is amazing. She is wickedly fun to watch.
Here’s something very cool to tell your kids: the author of the series, Veronica Roth, is 25 years old. When they read the book– I recommend it for kids age 9 and up– make sure they see Roth’s photo. She’s an inpsiring role model. There’s a great interview with her at the end of the book. When Roth was in college, she was studying psychology, specifically phobias, and learning about a kind of therapy where you repeatedly do what you are afraid of. One day she was driving, listening to music, and she saw a scene in her head of a person jumping off a building, not for a self-destructive reason. She put hat scene together with what she was leaning about experiencing fears and boom! ‘Divergent’ was born.
When Roth is asked what characteristics she kept in mind when coming up with her main character, she responds:
I don’t think I ever sat down and thought about how Beatrice was– I just had this sense of her. I knew her. I did set myself a rule that was hard to follow, though: Beatrice is always the agent. That is, she’s always choosing, always acting, always moving the plot by her behavior.
This is exactly the advice I give my kids when they are writing a story. Of course, too often, we see male characters acting and making choices. We are so used to that gender role that as writers, just as Roth describes, its important to keep in the forefront, that the female character needs to keep making choices that drive the plot. In ‘Divergent,’ it’s beautiful to watch a female hero be a true protagonist, commanding her own film and her own story. I look forward to the day when a sentence like the one I just wrote seems ridiculously dated.
I wish Zoe Kravitz as Christina had a more interesting part/ character arc. Once again, we have the girl of color as the BFF to the white protagonist.
As we all know, marketing is its own media. Even if children don’t go to the film, they are likely to see this ridiculous butt pose poster, where Tris is positioned awkwardly to show ass and breast.
I prefer this image in the cover of Entertainment Weekly.
Reel Girl rates ‘Divergent’ ***HHH***
(I recommend the movie for ages 9 and up, but depends on the kid. If you read Reel Girl, you know I think kids desperately need to see female characters with power and agency, and I mostly rate for that. You also know, if you read this review, how I feel about violence. This movie is not gory. As you can tell, I’m a huge fan of the romance here as well. I am concerned with context when I rate (sadly, an anomaly) and I like the context of this love story very much. There are sensual scenes but not extended and no nudity. The movie is rated PG-13 if that means anything to you, though IMO the MPAA is useless and I prefer Common Sense Media if I need to look up specifics about sex/ gore aside from context, which, as noted, too few, including CSM really consider.)