I Liked Divergent

My kids are on Spring Break this week. My daughter asked if we could go to the splash park.

“It’s twenty degrees,” I answered.

“Oh good! That means we can only do inside stuff!” she said.

So, we’ve watched a few movies, and I’m not even going to feel bad about it.

I took my older kids to see Divergent since they’ve already read the book, and I felt like I needed to catch up with them and see what they’re thinking about.

I’m not a big fan of teen lit. I started the Hunger Games when it came out, and I don’t know…it didn’t grab me. I thought I just didn’t like dystopian societies, and such a big deal is made about what Katniss wears to the opening ceremonies, and I always find the outcome a little underwhelming. Plus, Peeta’s such a wet blanket.

I think I just hadn’t found the right dystopian society. The idea that a surviving postwar civilization would divide into factions based on aptitude for certain virtues is much more believable to me than the idea that people would spend one minute watching their children fight to the death à la Hunger Games.

From Divergent:

“Decades ago our ancestors realized that it is not political ideology, religious belief, race, or nationalism that is to blame for a warring world. Rather, they determined that it was the fault of the human personality–of humankind’s inclination toward evil, in whatever form that is. They divided into factions that sought to eradicate those qualities they believed responsible for the world’s disarray.”

“…Those who blamed aggression formed Amity….Those who blamed ignorance became the Erudite….Those who blamed duplicity created Candor….Those who blamed selfishness made Abnegation…And those who blamed cowardice were the Dauntless.”

 

It reminds me a bit of Thomas à Kempis‘s notion that, “We would be well on the way to perfection if we could weed out one vice from ourselves each year.”

Of course we quickly learn the problem with practicing only one virtue to the exclusion of the others. It’s not good to be dauntless without erudition, erudite without self-abnegation, self abnegating without amity, and there’s not kindness without truth. (I may be reaching for that last one–amity and candor get short shrift in the movie, but I definitely explored the idea with my kids).

I haven’t seen any other secular story for young people that names virtues so explicitly and explores the affects of virtue (or lack thereof) on society. There’s a message about free will here as well. One of the pivotal moments in the movie is when a main character says he doesn’t want to be only one thing, but that he wants to acquire all the virtues.

Another interesting note: In the book, Tris’s family does actually pray. She’s born into the Abnegation faction, but feels like it’s not a good fit because self-abnegation doesn’t come easily for her. She joins the more glamorous Dauntless faction, but eventually realizes how much being selfless has cost her parents.

Things that may be problematic for your adolescent:

There is one quasi-sex scene. As part of her initiation into Dauntless faction, Tris has to face her fears in a series of induced hallucinations. One of her fears is being sexually overpowered by someone she cares about. Spoiler…but you want to know this, I think…she fights her way out of it. The scene is brief and not-graphic, but it’s definitely not for innocents.

There’s also slight glorification of goth fashion: the Dauntless faction (and it’s by far the coolest faction) is identified by its tattoos, piercings, black clothing and dare-devil antics. As the movie goes on, though, you begin to see the less cool side of being in this faction, and the Abnegation faction (recognizable by its modest grey clothing, and lack of adornment) becomes the one that’s doing the best work.

Dauntless initiates are forced to share co-ed dorms and bathrooms. This is not presented as a good thing, and the most you see is a sports bra.

There’s also quite a bit of violence.

If I’d had it to do over, I’d have pre-screened before I let my kids get ahead of me with the book, but I have a feeling this is going to be the story of my life for the next few years.

 

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And now I need to find something to do with the rest of Spring Break. I told them to make a list of fun ideas, and all they’ve managed to come up with it a visit to the local casino (slow down, kids).

About Elizabeth Duffy

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