Divergent Liveblog Funtimes

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I’m sure you’re all aware that YA publishing at the moment is heavily trend-based, with a sequence of massive trailblazers followed by imitators/stuff publishers looked over the first time around but then decided to dump out in order to ride the wave. Twilight was followed by a massive glut of paranormal romance novels, and The Hunger Games was followed by a glut of dystopian sci-fi novels. We appear to be in the final days of that particular trend, with the last Hunger Games movie on the horizon and YA shelves looking more varied, but there’s still time to squeeze some more money out of the craze. Hence a film adaptation series of the Divergent series.

Divergent and its sequels seem to have done very well- as far as I can tell they rivaled The Hunger Games’ prominence in a way that none of Twilight’s imitators managed- but there was always this second-rate knock off feel to them, and the movie in particular got described a lot as “The Hunger Games, but cheaper”. Well today we’re here to see if that’s true!

Okay first up, I want to just describe what this movie’s premise is. Leading up to its release I consistently had problems understanding what the fuck it’s about despite watching multiple trailers and reading previews. After seeing the movie I’m… still kind of confused.

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So it’s the future and Chicago is surrounded by some kind of fence that looks like it’s made out of K’Nex pieces. The setting is a kind of mishmash of post-apocalyptic and classic dystopian, in that there’s this sleek futuristic society living in the middle of all of these ruined husks of skycrapers. I’m not sure why they don’t repair stuff more, you’d think it would be hazardous.

There was some kind of huge war that destroyed everything except for Chicago

and now everyone lives behind a wall/K’Nex fence to keep them safe

which was built by the Founders

Okay I’ll stop now. But follow along on that twitter account and see how many cliches you can tick off as we go forward (hint: basically all of them).

In this world everyone is sorted into five factions because….. actually I don’t know. To “keep the peace.” I’m not entirely sure what that means, especially since the whole plot of the movie involves the factions fighting for control. They all have specific jobs, like farming or science, and are encouraged to embrace certain personality traits. Also they wear colour-coded clothes. There are also “factionless” who don’t fit in anywhere and are homeless. (By the way this information is all conveyed in a voice-over by the main actress, who sounds like she might be stoned).

You’re born into a certain faction, but then at age whatever you take an important test to determine which faction you’ll move into for the rest of your life…. except you can also just choose a faction regardless of what the test says? For some reason? Some people are “Divergent” which means they don’t fit into any faction. Our heroine, needless to say is Divergent.

So right off the bat we have a problem here, in that this premise is fucking boring. It’s basically high-school style social cliques, with the main characters cast as the totally radical outsiders who don’t belong in the system oh aren’t they so special. The protagonist’s “conflicted” feelings about where she’s supposed to belong are also incredibly boring- at the start she sees her brother helping someone (their birth faction is all about helping) and he asks why she didn’t lend a hand. “It’s not hard,” he says. Her reply: “for you, maybe.” THIS IS NOT FUCKING INTERESTING.

Also, the entire setup is weirdly both simplistic and overly convoluted. The factions seem unrealistically reductive and pigeon-holy such that the protagonist gets to be super special awesome simply by virtue of having more than one personality trait, but at the same time there are all of these weird complications- everyone gets sorted Harry potter-style into a faction, but also you’re born in a faction that you might have to leave, and actually you can just pick whatever faction you want anyway? What?

But hey, maybe something can be salvaged from this muddled premise. Let’s get on with the recap:

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– Our heroine (Beatrice Prior) is lining up for the big test and sees some inter-faction conflict, which seems like a big obvious red flag that the whole “the faction system keeps everything peaceful” premise isn’t actually true.

– Beatrice wants to intervene here, but her brother stops her, thus establishing that she’s got the potential to be strong and heroic but is being made meek and trepidatious by the system. You know, just like every single dystopian YA heroine ever.

– As we established, all of the factions have a single personality trait. Dauntless, the police/military, are supposed to be risk takers and thrill seekers, hence a scene where a bunch of them jump out of a very slow moving train and then run around whooping like jackasses, which Beatrice finds cool instead of jaw-droppingly stupid. vlcsnap-2015-02-13-23h48m55s132 – I’ll say this about the movie, it looks quite striking at times. There’s a strong but understated use of colour.

– “Once the choice has been made, there will be no change permitted” ….. why? There is literally no reason for this policy. Even if you want to say that the integrity of the faction system requires people to stay in one faction, why not have a probationary period early on where you can switch if you choose a faction and then decide you don’t like it, or have some kind of program where teens approaching testing age spend time working with all the factions to get a feel for what they’re like?

– “95% of people get the faction of their origin” doesn’t that mean this whole test thing is bullshit and people are just being socially conditioned through childhood to fit into the faction they were born into? You know, like how real societies and cultures work?

I kind of get the feeling there was an earlier draft of this concept where the characters were coming into this from some outside situation where the faction system didn’t apply, similar to how Houses work in Harry Potter.

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– Like a lot of stuff in this movie, the testing doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense. It’s this full-immersion VR thing where you face various scenarios and the choices you make somehow reveal your personality traits. Beatrice’s test starts out actually kind of creepy and eerie, with the testing room turning seamlessly into a maze of overlapping mirrors, but then there are PEDESTALS WITH KNIVES AND MEAT ON THEM AND A SCARY DOG and she closes her eyes and makes the dog turn into a friendly dog? Then the dog turns scary again and chases after a little girl, and Beatrice tackles it in slow motion.

– Somehow, all of this nonsense shows that Beatrice belongs in three factions instead of just one, which makes her Divergent, which is bad because…… I don’t know why it’s bad, actually. They can pick whatever faction they want so who the fuck cares if they’re not suited to just one? Why would a Divergent going to one of the factions be any different from someone going to a faction other then one the test indicated? Literally, this is just the main character being persecuted for being too interesting. Does wish fulfillment get any more shallow?

– The woman manning the test machine fudges Beatrice’s result as Abnegation so she won’t get into trouble and tells her to just pick a faction and not let anyone know what happened. Beatrice is thrown into an existential crisis because instead of being told what to do she now has to decide for herself. You know, like she could have done anyway because the test doesn’t fucking matter.

Okay, I think I know why that “you can choose” thing was added: the author wanted Beatrice to be from Abnegation (the boring faction) and go into Dauntless (the exciting cool faction) but since she’s from Abnegation, if the test operator was going to cover up her Divergent status it would make sense to pick Abnegation, not Dauntless. Therefore, there needed to be a way for Beatrice to get into Dauntless anyway.

I seriously do feel like that’s the only reason this detail was added. The whole premise just comes across like a poorly thought out first draft where the author went down some plot rabbit holes and added in extraneous guff to make them work instead of having the story fit naturally into the setting. I know because I’ve done the same thing myself.

If this really was the case, there an easier way to do it. The three factions she was selected for are Abnegation, Dauntless and Erudite; the operator picks Abnegation since as we established most people end up in their faction of origin. Just have none of the three include Abnegation, then the operator could pick one of them at random in the hope that Beatrice would blend better into a faction the test selected for as opposed to her non-selected birth faction; the random choice could be Dauntless.

Or maybe she has to freely choose Dauntless to show how awesome she as at jumping out of trains, I don’t know.

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– Needless to say “girl now has to think slightly harder about her life choices” comprehensively fails to create any compelling drama.

– The Choosing Ceremony (you can tell they’re saying it with capital letters) isn’t until the next day so Beatrice goes home, where it seems there’s politics afoot. Abnegation are the faction that govern the city, and Dauntless thinks they should be the ones in charge. Once again: faction system, maybe not actually working that well.

– By the way this movie is shot in that increasingly common style where they film with handheld cameras that shake and sway constantly, so it looks like the camera person was jacked up on coffee and couldn’t keep their arms steady. I do not understand why this became popular.

– To say something good about the movie, the acting is actually pretty high quality. Most of it is very understated, which makes the goofier aspects (the jackass patrol jumping out of the trains, the scary dog) all the more jarring.

– Also jarring is the music, which is this absolutely awful techno-rock combo that doesn’t fit the tone of the film in the slightest.vlcsnap-2015-02-14-00h19m31s87 – At the Choosing Ceremony we meet Scary Badlady, from Erudite. She’s blonde and probably evil. “It’s not really a choice. The test should tell us.”

“But you’re still free to choose.”

“But you don’t really want that.”

THEN WHY THE FUCK CAN THEY CHOOSE OH MY GOD NONE OF THIS MAKES ANY SENSE vlcsnap-2015-02-14-00h27m52s218 – A still from Divergent, or a United Colours Of Beneton ad?

– So there’s this concept of “faction before blood” and parents break down crying when their kids choose outside their birth faction, and it’s implied that doing so is mildly scandalous. But no pressure kids, pick whatever you want! Gee I wonder why 95% of people stick to the faction they’re already in.

– The actual ceremony is pretty rad, they get called up on stage and cut open their hand to drop a bit of blood into a bowel filled with something representing their faction of choice. I really wouldn’t want to be the last kid called, standing in front of these bowels full of blood and glass shards or whatever.

– Alternative theory for why this is so complicated: Veronica Roth wanted to have a scene with a scary dystopian test and also a scene with a scary dystopian choice.

– Beatrice’s brother picks Erudite, so I guess he’s evil. For some reason it’s implied that no one ever discusses what they’re going to pick with their family beforehand.

Beatrice of course goes with Dauntless. I don’t really get why her parents are so distraught considering everyone lives in one (apparently not very large) community contained within a city they literally can’t leave. It’s not like they’ll never see her again.

– After the Ceremony it’s time for Dauntless to run around whooping and screaming some more. Seriously, these guys are embarrassing to watch. vlcsnap-2015-02-14-00h39m12s114 FUCK YEAH RUNNING WHOOOOO

They decide to climb onto some train tracks and hitch a lift on a moving train and Beatrice scrambles up after them. The music swells here as if this is impressive, instead of stupid.

– All new Dauntless members (Dauntees?) have to do some sort of initiation, part of which involves leaping from the train onto a rooftop. If you don’t do it, you’ll be factionless! Yeah that makes sense. For the next part of the initiation they have to leap into a giant concrete hole that they can’t see the bottom of. Beatrice volunteers to go first, thus proving how lacking in daunt she is. vlcsnap-2015-02-14-00h48m01s27 – So I have a fairly severe fear of heights, and the scene where she jumps freaked the ever-loving shit out of me, let me tell you. She lands on a safety net, although frankly given the distance she falls I’m not sure that would help.

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– Beatrice is helped off the net by a Hot Dude, who (based on my vague recollections of the trailer) I think is the love interest. He tells her she can pick a new name and she goes with “Tris” (because it’s like Beatrice with out the Bea, the most weaksauce of all letter combinations).

– Hot Dude has all the charisma of a lump of dry concrete. He instantly turns into an asshole drill sergeant since he’s going to train all the new Dauntees so they’ll have even less daunt then before. vlcsnap-2015-02-14-00h54m26s38 -This is the Dauntless headquarters. There are tons of people whooping and shouting everywhere. If I was in Dauntless I’m pretty sure I’d go on a murder spree within the first 48 hours.

I said before that this movie looks nice, but the Dauntless base is really ugly and generic looking.

– IN CASE YOU HAD TROUBLE INTERPRETING THIS, DAUNTLESS ARE THE JOCKS OF HIGH SCHOOL CITY

– At dinner that evening Triss tries to strike up a conversation with Hot Dude and he acts like an asshole. I guess he comes from the Edward Cullen school of YA romance.

– Whoever did the score for this movie really likes what I’m calling the “Dauntless theme”, which goes like CHUGGA-CHUGGA-CHUGGA-CHUH-CHUH over and over again vlcsnap-2015-02-15-22h22m51s97 – Now it’s time for combat training.

So here’s another thing that doesn’t make sense: most of Tris’ class(?) were born into Dauntless and presumably have some experience with this sort of thing already; at the very least they’re used to the harsh warrior-class culture of the faction. The new recruits lack this experience, but they’re ranked the same, and the bottom 10% get dropped from the faction and have to live factionless.

Or at least, that’s what we’re told. If you look at that board you’ll see that there are 33 recruits and 12 of them are going to be dropped, which is way more than 10%. vlcsnap-2015-02-14-01h05m05s34 – Hey, why do the factionless exist? How do you ordinarily become factionless? Why can’t the people who get kicked out rejoin their old faction?

– Tris of course starts out sucking, such as when she has to do full contact sparring with no body armour. Do you know who does full-contact no-protection sparring? Fucking nobody because doing that is a really great way killed. Keep in mind this is the very beginning of their training, when they’d have the least self control and ability to moderate their use of force safely.

– Tris and her new buddies go to get tattoos at a neon Blade Runner cyber tattoo parlor (Dauntless is into tattoos) and the tattoo woman is the test operator who covered up for Tris. She spouts some guff about how Tris is “dangerous” to the powers that be (I’m pretty sure Tris isn’t dangerous to anything, including small puppies). vlcsnap-2015-02-14-23h50m28s54 – Hot Dude has a running conflict with another trainer (who seems to outrank him) who does stuff like shove Tris’s buddy off a railing so she’s dangling above a bottomless chasm (I don’t know why they have bottomless chasms at Dauntless school).

Later on the same guy makes a dude stand against a target while Hot Dude throws knives at it; if he flinches, he’s out. Tris is mad as hell about this and speaks up, and has to take his place. Hot Dude cuts her ear so the asshole will go easier on her, argument, ???, ROMANCE

– “If I wanted to hurt you, I would have” ROMANCE

– They keep mentioning that The Leader’s son left his home faction due to some kind of mistreatment by his dad. What do you want to bet Hot Dude is the son?

– Speaking of which, one of the asshole recruits needles Tris about why she joined Dauntless, reading from a newspaper report talking smack about Abnegation and their supposed incompetence, as well as the aformentioned accusations that the Leader (who is always from Abnegation, remember) abused his son.

Which raises a very good question: why did Tris join Dauntless? We see her looking at their stupid antics and smiling, and she apparently feels unsuited to Abnegation because…. she doesn’t like helping people? I’m not being flippant, that’s more or less the only point of dissatisfaction we ever see. Tris’ personality is so vague and thinly written that none of her actions really seem to fit into her character. vlcsnap-2015-02-15-22h10m53s86 – Asshole Evilwoman comes to visit Dauntless HQ and is vaguely sinister. I guess. I mean, nothing she actually says has been the least bit threatening or hostile, but everyone seems really intimidated and she’s clearly being set up as the villain, or at least a villain.

I suppose the idea is that Tris is scared Evilwoman (I’m not actually sure if they’ve said her real name) will find out she’s Divergent, but surely anyone involved with the government or the testing process could potentially do that? Or maybe she’s freaked out because Evilwoman is complimenting her on her choice, even though her test result was recorded as Abnegation? But (once again) anyone can choose any faction regardless of what the test says, so there should be nothing particularly unusual about what Tris did.

– “That was weird” no, it wasn’t. She just said “oh hey Tris I think you made a good choice despite what your parents would have wanted, I’m glad you’re in tune with yourself! Well bye.” There was nothing weird about it.

You know how a lot of the time in a book there’ll be a severe mismatch between what we’re told about a character and how that character actually is? Tons of stuff in this movie feels like that. – Apparently Erudite are big into “hunting Divergents” and okay, Tris literally had never heard of this concept before her test, but suddenly Erudite are hell-bent on sniffing them out and the kid from Erudite totally knows this? Why doesn’t anyone else know about it?

Also: why are they hunting Divergents? They just keep saying Divergents are “dangerous to the system” or whatever, but how? Because they reveal the faction system to be a sham? The factions are already a sham, for reasons I’ve been harping on constantly.

– holy shit we’re an hour in an I’ve already written more than 3000 words let’s speed this up vlcsnap-2015-02-15-22h21m51s0 – Tris gets some fighting advice from Hot Dude, because ROMANCE

His advice includes “punch your opponent in the throat” and once again, they’re fighting full-force, with no protection. Punching someone in the throat could easily kill them. Although apart from the lack of realism in how much of a beating these scrawny teens can take, the hand to hand scenes in this are actually fairly realistic- it’s mostly a lot of grappling, limb holds and kidney punches, rather than flashy martial arts stuff.

– Despite this excellent advice on how to kill people during training, Tris is in the bottom not-10% and is therefore going to get cut. I can understand being distraught at becoming factionless, but she seems to view even the idea of having to go back to Abnegation as unthinkable, even though we still have no idea why she doesn’t like Abnegation or why she’s so hellbent on being in Dauntless.

Everyone else takes off on a train for wargames and Tris decides to screw the rules and sprint after them, which causes laughably cheesy electric guitar music to play. Asshole instructor decides to let her in on the wargame for a lark. vlcsnap-2015-02-15-22h39m21s241 – What is with these people and heights, I swear to God

During the game Tris and Hot Dude climb this rusty abandoned ferris wheel to get a vantage point. Hot Dude gets about halfway and then he doesn’t want to go higher because it turns out he’s afraid of heights. Speaking as someone with personal experience in this, I can say pretty confidently that if he actually was “afraid of heights” he wouldn’t even have made it that far.

 – Tris helps her team win the wargame, and they decide to all go ziplining off a huge building (literally the only thing I knew about the books before going into this movie is that they apparently involve lots of ziplining).

This scene has more awful “inspiring” music and really obvious greenscreen effects (the zipline is ludicrously high up and seems to extend halfway across the city, which explains why they couldn’t do it for real) vlcsnap-2015-02-15-22h51m29s135 So I don’t know anything about ziplining (see: previous discussion of heights phobia) but this one terminates in a concrete wall; you have to pull a break located behind your shoulders- ie the hardest possible place to reach- to avoid shattering every bone in your body. That…. doesn’t seem like standard practice to me.

– Tris’ actions push her up above not-10% and of course she’s jubilant. It really does seem as if her attraction to Dauntless and rejection of Abnegation is based entirely on thinking her former faction was boring and wanting to do high-adrenaline thrill-seeking stuff all the time vlcsnap-2015-02-15-22h57m56s160 – They’re outside Dauntless School hauling some sacks off of trucks when Tris’ mom lures her away for a secret conversation. I… guess parents can’t just visit their kids if they switch faction? Wouldn’t that really make sure no one ever moved outside the one they were born in? Maybe this is deliberate, but surely if so it would be a really obvious case of social engineering? Wouldn’t people ask “hey why is this so obviously biased toward no one leaving their birth faction”?

Anyway Tris-Mom says Tris is in danger and asks what her test results were. Tris tells her and we get more guff about how people are “threatened by divergents”. So you realize we’re getting a world where the only apparent underclasses are: the factionless, who are ostracized for “not fitting in” in a vaguely defined way that doesn’t seem to be tied to any personal factor like race, gender, class, religion or sexuality, and Divergents, who are hated because- essentially- they’re too special and people are jealous of them. This is almost worse than good old Patrick Rothfuss and his despised class of educated creatives.

“What am I?”

“You don’t conform!”

Jesus.

-We’re told that Tris’s “mind works in a million different ways”, which it does not. She has exactly two personality traits- meek and determined- and seems to be interested in absolutely nothing beyond doing thrill-seeking shit.

I will say this, Ashley Judd as Tris-Mom sells all of this bullshit like a fucking boss. In fact most of the performances are pretty good; the weak links are Shailene Woodley and Jai Courtney as the leads, but they’re given such little to work with I can’t really blame them for turning in stiff performances.

– Anyway the stage 2 training involves seeing how people respond to fear, which is where Tris’s vaguely defined tendency to, like…. have too much personality (I’m 100% not joking, I still do not really get what the big deal about Divergents is) will come out.

– Tris-Mom turns out to have formerly been in Dauntless. Tris got Dauntless, Abnegation and Erudite in her test; her brother got Erudite. If she has a Dauntless mom and an Abnegation dad, and possibly some Erudite blood in there to explain her brother, do Divergents just come about when people from different Factions breed? vlcsnap-2015-02-15-23h11m05s111 – All the recruits have to undergo a test where they get given Scarcrow-style fear serum, and a machine examines how they react to the ensuing hallucinations. Tris being Divergent lets her pass it really easily, somehow (being Divergent continues to be this story’s equivalent to “a wizard did it”). vlcsnap-2015-02-15-23h13m57s44 – Do people ever actually inject stuff into the jugular? I see it all the tie in fiction but it seems like it would be kind of dangerous. If there are any doctors in the house, weigh in in the comments.

– Okay, reader feedback time: if they injected you with this stuff, what would your worse fears be (and no one answer with any bullshit like “the erosion of the human spirit”).

Mine would be heights (as discussed), insects, drowning and deep water in general.

-I kind of question the efficacy of a test like this, because surely if you know it’s just a hallucination you could just close your eyes until it stops? It’s not like this is full-immersion VR where you can feel everything happening.

(In case you’re wondering Tris’s fears appear to be birds (she got a tattoo of some birds earlier, which is actually quite a subtle bit of character building),drowning and social rejection

– There’s this hilarious bit where Tris’s friends ask how she managed to pass so easily and she answers in the most fake “what no I’m not doing anything I swear” way. Why are people in fiction always awful at lying?

– During the next test (they have to do it multiple times) Tris manages to break out of a glass enclosure that’s filling with water by willing the glass to shatter. Hot Dude gets really suspicious because “Dauntless don’t break the glass like that”. But…. Tris told him she got Abnegation on the test, so shouldn’t Abnegation behavior be the measurement he’s comparing against? vlcsnap-2015-02-17-20h00m39s0 – Tris figures Hot Dude has twigged to the fact that she’s Divergent and scarpers off to the fancy glass Erudite headquarters to talk to her brother.

Erudite all wear neat clothes and sit around in front of books and microscopes all day, because they’re the nerds of High School City. Tris-brother reveals the existence of a sinister plot by Erudite to take over the governing role from Abnegation, and also the fact that he’s become an enormous asshole, but I called that way back at the choosing ceremony.

So, two questions: why don’t all of the factions share power, or why isn’t there some kind of neutral goverening body? Surely having one faction permanently in control would just breed jealousy among the others. And if one of them has to be in charge, why Abnegation? I guess it’s supposed to be because they’re selfless, but that trait seems to manifest solely in the guise of them giving food to the factionless, just as Dauntless’ “bravery” consists of jumping out of trains and shit. vlcsnap-2015-02-17-21h23m07s101 – Tris has a conversation with Evil Scarywoman, who talks a lot of guff about overcoming human nature and THERE IS ANOTHER HOUR OF THIS MOVIE LEFT

– Abnegation is “undermining the faction system and breaking laws”, somehow, and harbouring Divergents.. Maybe I’d be more invested in this story if everything wasn’t so fucking vague. vlcsnap-2015-02-17-21h31m39s134 – Back at Dauntless School Tris gets jumped by three guys (one of whom is a fellow initiate she’s been feuding with) and they try to throw her into the bottomless chasm. Hot Dude saves the day, and ROMANCE. Sort of. I keep expecting the plot to advance in some meaningful way, and then it doesn’t.

– “Fear doesn’t shut you down, it wakes you up” WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT SHE HAS NO PERSONALITY

– The kid who tried to murder Tris asks her to forgive him, she refuses (understandably) and then the next day his body gets hauled out of the bottomless chasm, since it seems like he jumped rather than fail the final test and become factionless. Tris feels super bad over this even though he tried to murder you come on. vlcsnap-2015-02-17-21h45m23s166 – Hot Dude knows Tris is a Divergent and decides to train her to pass the fear tests the Dauntless way by going into the fear-hallucination together (apparently that serum can make people telepathic, somehow).

– Yep, Hot Dude is the Leader’s son. I caaaaaalled it. vlcsnap-2015-02-17-21h50m51s113 – Also he has a big stupid tattoo and is Divergent as well. This doesn’t get revealed until later, because everything in this movie takes a fucking age to happen. But at least him and Tris make out!

– The plot finally moves forward, Erudite are collaborating with Dauntless to use some kind of mind-control serum or something. This just comes completely out of nowhere.vlcsnap-2015-02-17-21h58m15s197

– It’s the final countdown test! Evil Scarywoman is in the audience for some reason.

Tris finds herself back in the scenarios she already faced (bird attacks, in a class enclosure filling with water) only this time she has to pass the Dauntless way. So, here’s a question: presumably for all of these situations there’s a method of reacting to them that corresponds to each faction, but I honestly can’t see that there would be for the drowning tank. Breaking the glass is apparently a Divergnent-only thing (even though it seems like the most obvious solution), so that’s out; Abnegation being all about selflessness would probably accept their fate and die calmly, and the action Tris takes here (blocking the water in-flow pipe) is apparently the Dauntless way, and that leaves…..what? What else could you do in that scenario?

Similarly, one of Hot Dude’s scenarios was being trapped in a metal box that’s closing in around him; the Dauntless reaction is to jam one of the walls with some metal screws lying around, but again, apart from just accepting your death what other course of action could you take? I guess “panic” but I don’t see what faction that corresponds to.

-Tris’s last hallucination is of Hot Dude trying to rape her, and she escapes by kneeing him in the balls. Which, um. Okay.

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-Tris thinks she’s passes the test, but then Evil Scarylady hands her a gun and tells her to shoot her family (this is similar to Hot Dude’s last test; it’s implied this might be something everyone in Dauntless has to do, to prove they’ll follow orders). After a bit of hesitation Tris does it and becomes a fully-fledged Dauntless person.

-The new Dauntees get a tracking device implanted into their neck. Or do they??? Everyone except Tris gets up in the middle of the night acting weird and robotic, so I guess the tracking device was actually that Erudite mind control stuff. I have to admit, as a plan to take over the city turning the army faction into your servants is a pretty good idea, but the fact that the story just introduces this serum stuff out of nowhere is kind of jarring.

-Tris isn’t affected by the serum (presumably because Divergent) but she pretends to be so as not to be caught.

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-The Dauntless leaders, including Asshole Instructor, were apparently on board with this plan and are acting under their own volition. Couldn’t they just order everyone to attack Abnegation, in that case? They are military commanders.

-Another dude we haven’t seen before wasn’t affected by the serum, thus marking him out as a Divergent. He gets shot for his trouble.

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-The brainwashed Dauntees all take off on a train and start rounding up all the Abnegation…s from their homes, which seems a bit unnecessary- Erudite have basically won once they get control of Dauntless, they could just force the Leader to step down and install themselves in power. How would anyone stop them?

There’s an actually quite tense scene where Tris sidles slowly through the crowd to try and get to Hot Dude. He stealthily holds her hand, thus indicating that he’s Divergent as well.

– For some reason it is now daytime, even though it was night when they started the train journey.

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-Asshole Instructor corners Hot Dude to gloat at him, then suspects he might be Divergent when his face muscles twitch a bit. He decides to shoot him, using a pistol that for some reason looks like a retro-futuristic hair dryer, but then Tris does a cool person action movie thing:

Instructor: “Say goodbye, asshole.”

Tris: “Goodbye.”

It ends up with a big four-way Mexican standoff between Tris, Asshole, Hot Dude and the Dauntless leader, which resolves with Tris getting skimmed by a bullet and her and Hot Dude surrounded by drones. But at least Asshole gets shot in the leg! Also there’s this bit, which I think is legitimately hilarious:

Instructor: “She’s not going to shoot me.”

Tris (deadpan): “I think you might be over-estimating my character.”

Tris may not have any personality, but the girl can quip.

– Instead of just shooting them the baddies drag Tris and Hot Dude into a house to see Evil Scarywoman (okay, now you’re allowed to be afraid of her, Tris). There’s more nonsensical guff about destroying human nature and shit and Tris gets to be sassy.

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– Hot Dude gets dragged off to Erudite and Tris is about to be shot, but then Tris-Mom springs into action and totally headshots some dudes, and her and Tris do cool action movie shit. Why wasn’t the rest of the movie like this?

-Tris’s friend who I haven’t mentioned before now comes at them; Tris tries to break him out of his mind control, but it doesn’t work and she’s forced to kill him. This is literally the first compelling dramatic moment in the entire movie.

-What the fuck are these guns, anyway? They seem to have infinite ammo and never have to be reloaded.

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– Oh no Tris-Mom gets shot 😦 she was turning into my favourite character.

-I am strangely thankful about the fact that she just keels over dead, instead of having a big dramatic death scene where she gets to say something inspiring. Tris’s emotional breakdown is also pretty well done. Hey look at that, the story is compelling when interesting things happen! Instead of all that bullshit!

-Tris gets to where her dad and some other Dauntees are hiding, and has to break the news to him. IT’S SUPER SAD YOU GUYS.

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-Also present is Tris-brother, who is filled with remorse, and Hot Dude’s dad.

-Tris hatches a plan to get everyone into Dauntless HQ to stop the mind control serum. I’m not sure how she even knows it can be stopped. The plan involves getting in via the same scary jump as was used in the initiation, so yay I get to watch that again.

-Tris finds a guy who I swear was the guy who jumped into the bottomless chasm, but apparently that was a different character. Anyway he wasn’t given the serum so he could play some pivotal role in the plan, and Tris gets to do some more action movie shit to get him talking.

Asshole: “It’s not like you’re going to shoot me.”

Tris: “Why does everyone keep saying that?” *shoots him*

-Don’t worry though, she aimed for his arm, which is apparently filled with sawdust, so he can still lead them to the control center or whatever.

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-There’s a big shootout, and Tris-Dad gets killed. He’s boring though so whatever.

-Tris finds Hot Dude, but he’s in the grip of a super-fear serum and attacks her. Scarywoman and some more Erudite goons surround them and for some reason she decides to monologue instead of just shooting Tris.

– We finally get some sort of an explanation for what the flying fuck the faction system is supposed to be about: it makes it impossible for anyone to exercise independent thoughts or express free will. Somehow. I don’t know this doesn’t make any sense.

-Hot Dude is about to shoot Tris, she breaks him out of his mind control through the power of lurve and then they do more cool action movie stuff. Scarywoman is about to order all the Dauntees to slaughter the captured Abnegation….s, so Tris throws a knife at her hand.

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-But uh oh, the “murder everyone” sequence has been activated and Scarywoman won’t shut it down. So Tris injects her with the mind control serum and orders her to do it. You know what would have been hilarious? If she turned out to be Divergent as well.

-It’s not over though, the non-mind controlled Dauntless members are coming! The final action scene of the movie involves more fucking trains, because of course it does.

-So what happens now? Is the faction system going to be dissolved? Are Tris and co renegades? NO IDEA because the movie fades out with a kick ass song without really resolving anything. I actually thought there must be another scene given the playtime still left on the movie, but it turns out the credits are fucking huge.

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So that’s Divergent! What can I say about it that I haven’t said in the last 6000 words?

Well, the action scenes are actually pretty well executed and well shot, with a lot of cool stunt work and smooth filming (no shaky-cam, thank God). The movie gets infinitely more engaging and entertaining once the attack on Abnegation starts. I really liked the five or so minutes where Tris and her mom are running around shooting people, and I guess the early parts of Dauntless School are kind of compelling. And apart from the weird rape hallucination bit I liked that the romance mostly avoided the creepier/more frustrating relationship tropes that most YA novels are apparently required to include post-Twilight, although apparently the two sequels introduce a love triangle where it’s completely obvious which guy the heroine is going to go for.

The movie’s main problem is how vague and half-baked the setting feels, as I believe I may have mentioned a few times over the course of this post. There are about five different dystopian ideas here all crammed together, and as the story goes on it repeatedly seems to jump the rails every time a new idea is introduced- the Erudite mind control stuff is literally shoehorned into the plot out of absolutely nowhere in the last half hour or so, with nothing but some vague rumblings of political conflict prior to that. Tris and Hot Dude are completely uninteresting leads, due to a combination of poor writing and the actors having more or less nothing to work with (Shailene Woodley does a good job during Tris’s few emotionally charged scenes, so I’m willing to absolve her of blame here).

I’m kind of tempted to read the book and see if any of these problems are a result of the transition to film. Possibly for a Let’s Read? Weigh in on the comments if you’d be interested. I’ve generally avoided tackling well known YA novels since they’ve all been lampooned and criticized to death a million times, but it might be fun to read something I’ve already watched an adaptation of.

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42 thoughts on “Divergent Liveblog Funtimes

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  6. zephyrean

    > Some people are “Divergent” which means they don’t fit into any faction. Our heroine, needless to say is Divergent.

    When I saw the poster at the bus stop, with the tagline “what makes you different makes you dangerous” and TWO BLOND WHITE PEOPLE, I lost it. On the internets, I would’ve never taken it for anything but a parody.

    > All new Dauntless members (Dauntees?) have to do some sort of initiation, part of which involves leaping from the train onto a rooftop. If you don’t do it, you’ll be factionless! Yeah that makes sense. For the next part of the initiation they have to leap into a giant concrete hole that they can’t see the bottom of.

    I love how the internets gave a new, better life to classic deadpan humor… waitwhat the concrete hole is for realz?

    > Okay, reader feedback time: if they injected you with this stuff, what would your worse fears be (and no one answer with any bullshit like “the erosion of the human spirit”).

    As a kid, I used to be afraid of chemical plant spills, fireball wall traps, and slugs. Now it’s slugs, drowning, total data storage failure, slugs, and slugs.
    I love heights.

    > He stealthily holds her hand, thus indicating that he’s Divergent as well.

    As if the poster wasn’t enough.

    > but then Tris does a cool person action movie thing:
    > Instructor: “Say goodbye, asshole.”
    > Tris: “Goodbye.”

    Wait no, she should’ve said “goodbye, assholes”. Now that’d be a cool person action movie thing.

    > You know what would have been hilarious? If she turned out to be Divergent as well.

    Yes, it would.
    I’ll buy your book.

    > I’m kind of tempted to read the book and see if any of these problems are a result of the transition to film.

    I bet they aren’t. There are certain plots which I call regurgitated or photocopied or secondhand — as in, it feels like whoever wrote them never had a single first-hand creative thought in their life and compiled the story from half-remembered elements (which are themselves sourced from worse works as time goes on) to check boxes and fill pages, without any reference to the real world or any thought as to how these elements might interact. Fantasy worldbuilding requires knowledge of the real world.

    Reply
  7. Austin H. Williams

    Mad late to the party here, but two things:

    – Do people ever actually inject stuff into the jugular? I see it all the tie in fiction but it seems like it would be kind of dangerous. If there are any doctors in the house, weigh in in the comments.

    I don’t think this is generally accepted medical practise, but I do know junkies who swore by shooting into their necks. They said it went to their heads faster. So, umm…

    Okay, reader feedback time: if they injected you with this stuff, what would your worse fears be (and no one answer with any bullshit like “the erosion of the human spirit”).

    Devil dogs. Confined spaces. Being unable to run, jump, be active, etc. Also: being forced to live in suburbia. (I wish I were joking, here, but I literally start cringing and tearing up when the possibility/likelihood of having to live in the ‘burbs comes up.)

    Reply
  8. Eudaemonium

    My two primary fears are heights and being eaten alive, so I guess the serum would cause me to hallucinate the Sarlacc pit or something.

    Reply
  9. dbrvnk

    Someone else did a Let’s Read of the Divergent series. In spite of the enlivening criticisms, the story itself was just so boring that I gave up (reading the Let’s Reads) about halfway through. Seemed like the kind of book series where the author had no idea what she wanted to write, so she just wrote *everything*.

    I’ll second the Game of Thrones books if you can get through any of them… I read about two chapters of one before dying of boredom, but I have a pretty low tolerance for bad prose

    Reply
  10. ghosthelwig

    There is one follow up to Twilight that reached the heights of its predecessor: 50 Shades of Grey. (Bleh.) But that changed the age range so much, I don’t know if it really counts. And it managed to make the relationship even more abusive, which is fun. :/

    My nightmare scenarios would involve fire, being buried alive, and something happening to my bunny (I have that nightmare a lot, actually). Is it bad that Tris’s fear of rape made sense to me? I’ve had nightmares about that too, although rarely. Supposedly in the book it was less of a rape situation and more her being afraid of sex, but I’ve never read the books myself so I don’t know how true that is.

    As for doing a Let’s Read of Divergent, I’d suggest reading a chapter or two before you decide, just to see how you feel about going over basically the same story. It could be interesting or frustrating, depending on how mind numbing you find the book. I do know that the world building is just as awful in the novel. There are already a couple of sporkings of the series out there, by the way, if that matters to you.

    Personally, I’d love to see a Let’s Read of ASOIAF, just because I’m still unable to find anything well written that points out the flaws I found in my own reading of the first two books. (Even the bad reviews I’ve read only ever harp on how dark/graphic the books are, which wasn’t my problem at all.) But that’s a rather large undertaking, and so many people like the books, I may be alone in seeing issues with it anyway…

    Reply
    1. Aaron Adamec-Ostlund (@AaronAO)

      I too would like to see a Let’s Read of ASOIAF. For pretty much the same reasons you listed. Most criticisms of the book focus on the grimdarkness of it, especially the treatment of women in the stories, and while that’s something that needs to be discussed considering how many apologists the novels have, there are very few reviews that discuss the writing style and characterization like we’ve come to expect here.

      Reply
      1. Signatus

        Agreed. Would love an ASOIAF Lets Read. While I did find good sporkings for other books, I haven’t found any interesting enough concerning these books. I have to say I did like the first three. The last two were the ones I didn’t like as much. I’m not specially concerned about the grimdarkness, it’s actually pleasant to read about “heroes” that have to fight their way through without having everything given out to them. I did have some concern with the fact that there was little reward towards the reader. It seemed like the bad guys got a milder punishment than the good guys, and I got quiet sick of reading about brutal murder page after page, not to mention other issues I’ll get on if Ronan chooses these books.

        Reply
      2. Reveen

        My problem with ASOIF on a structural level is that Martin ends up putting all of his actually interesting characters in limbo because he’s too focused on the big important overarching plot and those characters are no where near where the important things are happening. And after a certain point Martin decides he can’t be fucked to just write about the characters just, y’know, doing things that aren’t worldshakingly important.

        Reply
  11. Elspeth Grey

    Man I’m still surprised they got Kate Winslet for this.

    My hallucinations would involve spiders/insects or not being able to move. Though my ACTUAL nightmares are all livelihood/debt related, which I don’t think would translate well into this kind of test.

    Reply
      1. q____q

        Such a weird show! I never got into Penguindrum, but after this I might give it another try.

        And Dee’s/JoseiNextDoor’s articles are really good, she points out a lot of things in each episode that I didn’t get.

        Reply
  12. steamysalt

    My brother’s girlfriend makes him go see all these YA film adaptations with her, and he tells me all about them, and every time I’m reminded of the reasons why I keep my distance for YA.

    And for a Let’s Read, I’d like to see you tackle the Prince of Nothing series by R Scott Bakker. Best part is that the author has something of a reputation for showing up wherever he’s mentioned, so that should be fun. For me. I don’t know about you.

    Now if you excuse me, I have some twitter accounts to stalk.

    Reply
    1. Chackludwig

      Oh god yes, those books are like a cult member beating you over the head with his manifest over and over again. (And badly written too)

      Reply
    2. Reveen

      I have the first book, and I swear to god half of any let’s read is going to be bogged down in trying to decipher what the hell Bakker is trying to blather about in any given chapter.

      Actually, as long as were reccing Let’s Read fodder, I’d nominate the Fifth Sorceress. It’s got everything, bad writing, goofy story, super-problematic, rape and violence inappropriately juxtaposed with twee nonsense. And the writer’s… issues with perspective make Walsh’s look good.

      Reply
  13. Signatus

    Saw the movie. Didn’t like it very much, for reasons you already stated. I’d get on the bandwaggon of a Let’s Read tho as I happen to have the books (a friend of mine is insisting that I read them so she gave me the whole trilogy).

    Right now I’m reading Codex Aleera (another friend…). I tell you, THAT makes for a Let’s Read. Terrible book. Terrible.

    Reply
    1. Reveen

      You got your juvenile Jim Butcher in my fantasy! Yeah? Well, you got your overwrought fantasy in my Jim Butcher!

      Atleast I’m presuming. Are they standard fantasy book length, or Dresden book length? Cos there are six of the things.

      Reply
      1. Signatus

        Lol!

        Let me check as these are kindle files, but either it is so tedious it’s looking endless, or it is really long.

        In Amazon it says it’s 688 pages, so yeah, these are longer than the Dresden Files. At least the first one.

        Reply
      2. braak

        They’re not TOME sized books, but they’re longer than the Dresden Files books (though those run on the short side).

        What’s interesting is that, despite all of the worst parts that are in there (and really, these books are almost exactly Avatar the Last Airbender in Ancient Rome, but fighting the Zerg from Starcraft), there’s all these hints that maybe it was about to get even worse — like real gross smarmy old due ideas that get brought up once or twice but never again, and I kind of got the feeling that he had an editor on this one who was a little bit pickier about that sort of stuff.

        Reply
      3. Signatus

        I’m wondering myself, although I guess it has something to do with the whole torture-rape thing that appears in the book. Yes, it has THAT (Goodkind any?). Wonder what it is with mediocre writers that love inserting rape and torture as a way of saying; “hey, look, this book is so mature and not like anything you see in fantasy”

        Apparently you can’t have a book covering mature topics without inserting rape.

        The “bad guy” is laughably evil.

        Reply
      4. braak

        @Ronanwills: Okay, so, here is an example: the main character, Tavi, ends up becoming friends with these barbarian guys, the Marat, who have this sort of spiritual bonding they do with tribal totems. Some people are Horse people, and they’ve got a spiritual affinity for Horses, or whatever. And Tavi makes a friend of one of them, and she ends up (eventually) being his girlfriend, and the thing is that she clearly spiritually bonded with him, she got Avatar the Last Airbender powers, her eyes changed color to match his, they can psychically sense each other. She is a Marat with a Human Being totem, right?

        Now, that’s not necessarily the WORST, psychic-pair bonding is a pretty common fantasy trope, okay, okay. BUT, early on in the first book, the head of the Marat goes to a lot of trouble to explain to Tavi that the Marat animals don’t belong to the Marat, the Marat belong to their totems.

        The girl (Kira? Kida? Kita?) and Tavi are set up to pair-bond right from the beginning, so I remember reading that bit about the totems and thinking, “well, that’s a real weird thing to bring up, that’s going to be some clandestine Gor stuff in here isn’t it?”

        And then the question of “who owns whom” in the totemic relationship is never mentioned again.

        Reply
  14. Kitts

    My vision would probably involve a threat to my cat, since that’s usually what my nightmares are about. Oh, or scorpions.

    Reply
  15. Reveen

    Honestly, I think the thing this subgenre is missing on the movie side is musical dance numbers, like a post-dystopian West Side Story. A lot can be forgiven in a setting if the audience understands that it’s all just a stage for the music.

    Anyway, probably either freezing to death, or being attacked by a large predator. I’ve had that dream a few times.

    Reply
  16. haroldsmithson

    My vision would probably be being crushed to death. Sometimes I even get nervous in the basements of office buildings. It’s why I liked the bunker scene from Mockingjay, because it affected me in a way that the rest of that film didn’t.

    “I’m kind of tempted to read the book and see if any of these problems are a result of the transition to film. Possibly for a Let’s Read?” I wouldn’t, mate. The book is quite dull and, judging by your liveblog (and what my little sister said), differs from the film in minute details only. I think the Chaos Walking books would be a better target, not only because they’re a bit more interesting than Divergent (speaking, mind you, as someone who read the books when he was in high school) but also because they’d likely produce more interesting discussion about what is/isn’t acceptable in writing style and the various themes it covers (or attempts and fails to cover. My lit crit skills weren’t so great in high school). (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2118745.The_Knife_of_Never_Letting_Go?from_search=true)

    I’m glad to hear that Tris’ mother was handled well. She was the best thing about the book.

    If you think the dystopian system doesn’t make sense now wait until it’s actually explained. I don’t know whether you’ll be angry or laugh at the sheer implausibility of it all.

    Reply
    1. ronanwills Post author

      I actually read the first two Chaos Walking books about five years ago. At the time I remember being kind of blown away by them and thinking they were super innovative and creative, but at the same time the fact that I’ve owned the third book for years without reading it is kind of telling.

      I think my main complaint was that the pacing and breathless writing style of the books became exhausting; I actually remember putting the second one down and thinking “Jesus I need a break”.

      Reply
      1. haroldsmithson

        Part of the problem is that the books just get so bleak. By the end of the second book everything has become so morally grey that all levity has been replaced by trauma and the third is even more disturbing. The writing style makes everything feel so raw.

        I would like to return to the series just to see if it still holds up, but I have plenty of other books to read and little time to do so, what with college and all. I don’t remember anything particularly stupid from the series and it seemed like it was paced fairly well, but I can’t be certain. I would of course like someone else to do it for me (that’s a joke. Not that I think you’re stupid but I have the unfortunate quality of often being misinterpreted on the Internet), but if you don’t want to do it that’s your choice.

        On an unrelated note, have you read this book: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/15161.The_Ladies_of_Grace_Adieu_and_Other_Stories

        Reply
  17. braak

    I think that one of the things that makes this kind of “YA” genre of literature so popular is the way that it fills its world out sort of through the inside of a teenager’s perspective. Like, this world in Divergent doesn’t make any rational sense to a grownup who understands basic things about economics, politics, history, &c. But it makes perfect intuitive sense to a teenager who is dealing with high school troubles — you couldn’t ever really build a city like this, but the idea of a place where everyone is forced into cliques and you’re aggressively and unreasonably punished for being different FEELS right.

    This isn’t to say that you couldn’t make something like this make also actual sense, or that writers ought to be absolved from making actual sense, but I think the YA dystopian-future trend makes a lot more sense if you see it as a kind of mechanism for capturing the feeling of being in high school, rather than the traditional science fiction idea of dystopian futures as a mechanism for exploring political philosophies or essential questions about human nature and civilization.

    Reply
    1. Elspeth Grey

      I saw a review of Divergent that pointed out that the whole faction test/choosing can really get at high school anxieties about how you NEED TO CHOOSE WHAT TO DO FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE NOW. It’s still an incredibly dumb setup, but I thought that was a pretty fair explanation of the appeal.

      Reply

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