Friday, March 21, 2014
The setup of the plot may seem like the beginning of a bedtime story for a five-year-old which sounds like this: in a postwar era in Chicago, the society is divided into five factions: Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless, and Erudite. Each teenager take a personality test at the age of sixteen and the test result indicates which faction he or she fits the best. Once one joins a faction, the decision is final and no refund or exchange. If the test result is inconclusive, however, the person is called a Divergent who is regarded as a threat to the harmony of the society and must be eliminated.
The film's heroine, a likable girl Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley), is about to take this life shaking personality test. Dressing like Amish people, Beatrice and her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) have been living with his parents Natalie (Ashley Judd) and Andrew (Tony Goldwyn) in the Abnegation faction, but deep inside she always dreams of becoming one of the Dauntless. If you are young, the Dauntless do seem to have their appeal when they dress in black and roaming the streets like a bunch drunk fraternity guys after bars are closed on a Saturday night.
Regardless her troublesome test result, Beatrice joins the Dauntless and begins her new life under a new name—Tris. Led by the inked and pierced mean Eric (Jai Courtney), the brutal training process seems like a never ending hazing cycle for the new recruits in a fraternity. Besides enduring the harsh competitions among the new Dauntless members, Tris must conceal her Divergent identity in order to survive. Even her environment has no privacy, compassion, or humanity in sight, sensitive Tris manages to connect with her handsome commander Four (Theo James) and develops a romantic relationship.
That relationship is proven to be crucial later in the film because it becomes the life line for her survival, as well as for winning the battle over an evil conspiracy by Erudite leader Jeanine Matthews (Kate Winslet).
Although the film belongs to a sci-fi genre in the post-apocalyptic future, the director Neil Burger adds little imagination to the implausible original plot. The film is indeed thrilling, if you are acrophobia, like the bravery Four is. But after repeated shots looking down from a railroad track, the film runs out of tricks. Thus, it let Tris and Four climb to an abandoned roller coaster ride, so they can see further and feel more thrilling by looking down. No kidding. The chair for Tris to sit in to take a test is no different from a dental office. Is it the best the film's production can do?
Like the five factions, many things in the film don't make any sense. For example, when chemical induced personality test takes place and a test person is wired to a computer, unlike the NSA, the computer doesn't collect crucial personal data such as the test result. Even the test finds a potential threat like a Divergent, unlike the TSA, it doesn't alert the authority. Really?
Despite all the flaws in the film, the film stays afloat, thanks to Shailene Woodley, who always has a convincing presence and sympathetic persona on the screen. She can easily become the next Jennifer Lawrence, if she is given a better script and direction. Perhaps her next personality test will take her to a different faction—the one that makes sense.