Family Before Faction

Tris and Four in Divergent
Family Before Faction
A Review of Divergent by Nick Olszyk

MPAA Rating, PG-13
Reel Rating, Four Reels       

            The YA fantasy genre has been so overplayed in the last decade that it requires its own set of sub genres including wizardry, mythological, paranormal, and the ever loved/hated vampirism or lycanthropy (look it up, kids). Divergent would fit nicely in the future political dystopia category, yet it stealthily rises above the rest. It is better than the films City of Bones (duh), better than Percy Jackson (okay), better than The Hunger Games (gasp)…even better than Harry Potter (oh no he DIDN’T). Potter has a better trained Shakespearian cast and Hunger Games has more visual wonder, but Divergent manages to surpass them all where it is most important: training teenagers to be spiritual warriors in the postmodern world.
            Set in post-WWIII Chicago, society is composed of five factions based on personality traits: Abnegation (selflessness), Amity (peace), Candor (honesty), Dauntless (bravery), and Erudite (intelligence). Each faction has specific roles and uniforms – making shopping easier but stifling any true individuality. Abnegation was chosen to rule this uneasy peace because they were the least power hungry. When teenagers come of age, they take a mental test to determine their personality but are allowed to choose any faction – a permanent commitment. Tris (Shailene Woodley) comes from a prominent Abnegation family but her test reveals an aptitude in Abnegation, Erudite, and Dauntless. The technician says it’s an extremely rare condition called Divergent, dangerous to society because it violates the system. Tris ultimately decides to join Dauntless and try to blend in, but her handsome recruit leader Four (Theo James) discovers her secret just in time to expose a potential coup by Erudite with Dauntless as unknowing accomplices.
            The themes of mind control, oppression, and conformity will be familiar to any high school student reading Brave New World or 1984, but Divergent is unique in its focus on the family. One of prized adages of this nameless society is “faction over family.” If a son or daughter chooses to leave their family’s faction, they are forbidden from any future contact and the parents can be proud they’ve sacrificed another child for the society. Family, love, and sex are hindrances to social order. However, it is Tris’ family that ultimately helps her in the Erudite war, not her Dauntless comrades. Illegally, they become her closest allies, including her Erudite older brother. Due to her upbringing, Tris sadly finds intimate relationships with anyone difficult. Even when she allows herself to love Theo, she is deathly afraid of sexual contact and insists they “take it slow,” a line that’s as rare in a YA films as being Divergent. Yet, his fear of intimacy or even casual friendships is becoming more common in films like The Hunger Games and Frozen. It’s a symptom of Millennials growing up in the homes of the first generation to accept the sexual revolution and its devastating results.
            The central reason the society has been divided in this tyrranical manner is to “fight human nature.” Jeanine Matthews (Kate Winslet), head of Erudite and the primary antagonist, believes people need to be tightly controlled because their instincts are evil, a temptation common to both religious leaders like John Calvin and political leaders like Karl Marx. Christians believe the opposite; we were created good. Even when tainted by original sin, St. Paul can still tell the pagan Greeks that the law “is written on your hearts.” As the not so-YA writer St. Thomas Aquinas would say, “grace perfects nature.” Humans were given free will by God, the person harmed most by man’s sin. Governments should do no less.
            It is understandable that parents may be weary to let the children see such a frightening and violent film, but it is necessary boot camp for this age. The story feels oddly like a training film, imagining a world only slightly farther away form our own with instructions on how to defeat it. This world does not need more doctors, lawyers, or even farmers and small business owners. This world needs families – GREAT families. This world does not need more bureaucracy and surveillance; it needs governments that will respect the freedom and personal initiative of its citizens. Divergent will thrill teenage audiences with its fast paced action, witty dialogue, and attractive 20-something actors posing as adolescents; it will also inspire them to live exceptional lives with a healthy rebellious spirit pointed in the right direction. The secret lies in St. Paul’s insights that virtues (factions if you will) come from the Holy Spirit. With Him, anyone can be Divergent.