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.