• Fri, Mar 21 - 11:59 am ET

The Only Thing Stopping Divergent From Being Good Is That Its Heroes Are Violent Sociopaths

If i wanted to hurt you four talking to tris divergentfour talking to tris divergent

Look, I liked Divergent when I read it this summer. Did I love it? No. But I guess I have a soft spot for YA lit about our dystopian future. My only real grievance with the plot — besides the fact that it stole liberally from every dystopian/unique-snowflake-superhero plot before it — is the fact that our heroes are violent little monsters. Or to put it in medical terms, they’re sociopaths.

Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James) are our leading teen hearthrobs in the movie. They’re both part of the Dauntless faction, which is supposed to be the equivalent of Gryffindor because they’re the brave heroes who will do anything to defend their people. But is much more like Slytherin in the way that they’re nonchalant about horrible things like torture and murder. Do you like how I just threw in some Harry Potter references all willly-nilly as if they were real things? Yes? Great, me too! Alohomorereferences all the time please? Done and done.

While reading the book, I kept thinking about the fact that our heroes are monsters. Sure Tris herself isn’t one, but she still chose to join a faction full of them. Nothing about them in the book appealed to me, from their Hot Topics dress code to their penchant for violence. Naturally I assumed that the movie would tone down some of that violence and make our heroes look more like the heroes we’re used to seeing in the movies. You know, photogenic and conflicted young people thrust into a position of power while they’re still in the process of discovering themselves. Sure they might have a weapon (or wand) in hand, but they’re still good people who surround themselves by good people.

But they didn’t. At all. Instead they stuck pretty faithfully to the book. While I’d mostly applaud this decision, it doesn’t work this time around due to the fact the book portrays Dauntless horribly. It’s bad enough to read about Peter (Miles Teller) beating Tris up in the book. Seeing it in the movie’s thoroughly unpleasant. Same with every other training scene that takes place within the Dauntless HQ. Including, but not limited to, the scene where Tris manages not to flinch while her mentor/lover throws knives at her head. Sure this is supposed to show she’s fearless — which it does. But it also shows that the people who are in charge are training her are INSANE. Maybe my vagina’s malfunctioning, but I did not find it at all sexy when Four was like, “If I wanted to hurt you, I would’ve hurt you.”

How can we possibly root for a faction full of maniacs? And how did Veronica Roth, and then the movie makers, not realize how weird it is to make your “cool kids” all be sociopaths. Specifically sociopaths who are in such a rush to behave like sociopaths that they have to jump off speeding trains every two minutes. Sorry I’m not sorry that watching these girl-with-a-dragon-tattoo-wannabes crawl up buildings doesn’t impress me. They’re called stairs. USE THEM. Other things that don’t impress me? Seeing Tris win over her fellow Dauntless initiates by shooting people during an extremely painful version of capture the flag. That would be like falling in love with Harry Potter after he waterboarded Neville Longbottom. Like it’s great that you have friends now, but look what you had to do to make them! (Subtext: you’re a monster now too!)

Regardless of whether Tris herself enjoys seeing people in pain, it’s clear that part of succeeding in Dauntless requires being okay with the fact that you sometimes have to hurt other people to achieve your goals. Are these the kind of “heroes” we want our young people (and people who read books for young people) looking up to in America? As someone who prefers to live in a society not protected by power hungry people with weapons, I vote no.

A lot of people in Hollywoodland are holding their breath right now waiting to see if Divergent will make money and if YA movies are at still profitable. And here’s what I have to say to them: next time you make a movie about teenage heroes, make sure that they’re not murderers. I’ll forgive a lot of nonsense in YA adaptations, but I have to draw my line at cheering for sociopaths to succeed. Here’s to me not seeing the sequel OR the trequel.

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  • Samantha Escobar

    VERY UNRELATED: I am still so unfamiliar with this movie/book, but did they do something to Shailene Woodley’s appearance for the film? Like, her actual face? In all the screenshots and GIFs I’ve seen so far, she looks like a borderline different person.

    • Jenni

      Great question Sam. To answer it as briefly as possible, they cut off her head in real life and stapled on Jennifer Lawrence’s face to the front of it and Kristen Stewart’s to the back. Then they glued Emma Watson’s face to her back and prayed for the a good opening weekend.

    • Samantha Escobar

      OHHHHHHHHH. Okay thank you pop culture experts at Crushable!!!!!!

    • Jenni

      That’s Dr. Pop Culture Expert esq. to you

    • Samantha Escobar
    • Jenni

      I’m embarrassed that Dr. Pepper has to stand anywhere near those storebrand imposters

  • CMJ
  • lainey

    I also have a problem with the book series being anti-intelligence and anti-science, in the same line as the current crop of conservatives bashing science and education.

    • Alexis Rhiannon

      Agreed.

    • anna

      That is so true! So I guess Dauntless would be the Tea Party? It’s so scary, but true! lol

    • MellyG

      But it’s really not! The point of the book (s) is that all of the factions are flawed for different reasons. You should be a little of ALL of those things, that’s the point

    • Kit

      Here’s a review from New York Magazine that hits at that same point. “Veronica Roth reserves her loathing for the Erudites, who spend their
      days in intellectual pursuit. She appears to be one in a long line of
      religious conservatives … who think there’s nothing more dangerous than
      intellectualism.” I’ve read all 3 books and agree with this. In the 3rd book she slightly backtracks from this viewpoint, but it’s definitely still there.

  • Lindsey Conklin

    violent little monsters…hahahahaha

  • Meg Malone

    While we’re talking about Dauntless, one gripe I had was that it seemed their faction’s persona was based on such stereotypes – “Oh, Dauntless is the DANGEROUS faction – you can tell because they have PIERCINGS and TATTOOS!” Like, lots of non-violent people exercise self-expression. Let’s not perpetuate stereotypes here. It just seemed like a weak and cliche way to characterize that faction as the “rebels.”

    • Alexis Rhiannon

      I totally agree, Meg. I feel like that’s just one of the many instances where you can tell she wrote this while in college. Simplistic stereotypes standing in for any more ambitious character development.

    • CMJ

      It’s funny because Divergent was one of the first YA dystopian books I really got into….and, it doesn’t hold up well. I mean, it’s entertaining, but some of the stuff really makes me scratch my head.

    • Jenni

      Seeing the movie only makes you scratch your head more because it brings all the plot problems to the forefront.

  • lauren guilbeau

    Did you read all three books? How different all the factions behaviors were from the ideals they stood for and all that was kinda the point…and I don’t think it was anti-intelligence either, I think it was pretty spot on with what weaknesses typically come with certain strengths. I actually liked that its more complicated than the harry potter groups, the whole point is that you shouldn’t necessarily trust how anyone (gov) outside yourself categorizes you.

    • MellyG

      agreed completely. I think Four’s line about not wanting to be “one thing” sort of sums up the point of the books.

      I also don’t think that all of dauntless are supposed to be heros. That’s not really the point

    • Jenni

      Are you saying Amity grew some balls? Or were they still hufflepuffing around in the last book?

  • parisc

    I’d definitely let Four break my neck so long as I can die in his arms, but that’s just me… or “only” me. #yolo

  • Amanda

    If you read the books thoroughly and understood them, which I can only assume you did not, then you realize that the point of the story is to NOT coincide with today’s world but to show a place so far removed from today’s world and stories about “teen heroes” that it removes you from reality. I absolutely loved the books (save for the end because lets get real, shit went a little haywire there) but I think the concept is so original. Not like HG or any prior YA novels… and the author put a ridiculous amount of thought into her characters and their personalities. If you don’t think “your teens” need to be subjected to murderous heroes, then you should place them in bubbles, because unfortunately, the world is full of them. anyway, thats my take.

    • CMJ

      So you’re saying that prior to Veronica Roth not one YA author put a great deal of thought into their characters? What? Listen, I like the Divergent trilogy – it was a fun read…but it really isn’t that groundbreaking.

    • Jenni

      Oddly enough the YA book I’m working on is Called Bubble Bubble, Toil and Trouble. It’s 300 years in the future and everyone has to live in a bubble because (spoiler alert) the whole world is water. My heroine’s name is Sarah K (also everyone’s name is Sarah in the future, so they all have to go by their last initial) and when she turns 13, she finds out she can read cats’ minds.

    • Alexis Rhiannon

      Sam would legitimately read this.

  • FemelleChevalier

    I wouldn’t say monsters. Antisocial behavior can be curbed to positivity depending on the upbringing and environment. Maybe in Divergent, it can be possible that the “abnormal” behavior of today can be a means of survival for tomorrow?

    Never read the book, though. Is it worth all these hoopla?

    • anon

      This isnt as stressed in the movie but in the books it makes a point to tell you that ALL the factions are super messed up. The dauntless faction does needlessly stupid and violent things to show they are brave but it was actually founded on the principle of doing ordinary acts of bravery, like standing up for another person. Abnegation forces people to give up any sense of self because thinking about yourself is self serving, but it started out as doing kind things for other people. All the factions have grown to be problematic. The books are definitely worth the read, even if they aren’t perfect.

  • Alexis

    I have to agree with MellyG and everyone sharing her sentiment. While the first book in the Divergent series doesn’t go into it too in depth, it does hint at the fact that the factions are flawed, as is the faction system as a whole. The actual series is less about which faction is the best, but rather the aim to find a balance between being brave, selfless, smart, peaceful, and honest.

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  • Hazel-Grace Prior

    Stole from other dystopia themed book series? Yeah sure, tell that to THG which copied almost the entire plot of Battle Royale – but Suzanne still made a smashing story, and I loved it. Anyhow, Four is not a sociopath. He could have hurt Tris, Eric even requested him to do so. Maybe re-read the books now because you’re missing the point of them. Completely.