Veronica Roth’s wildly popular youth novels about a dystopian future in the ruins of Chicago were converted into a highly successful movie (“Divergent,” 2014), and now this sequel. You can see why Hollywood loves these: they celebrate diversity and the idea of following one’s own path. Yes, the main themes play right into Hollywood’s persistent agenda. So of course the filmmakers make the productions as slick and believable as they can, despite the science fiction trappings, and feature some of the industry’s best young “A” list stars. It almost works. But the result is just too hopeless, violent, humorless, and arrogant to appeal to many mainstream moviegoers. There’s neither charm nor elegance here. And certainly no cute or endearing, either.
The good news is that this sequel can be successfully viewed without having seen the original, although there is plenty of reference to what has happened before. The world consists of a ruined Chicago, with a big electric, impassable wall around it. The society is in ruins too – now a Fascist dictatorship run by a tight-lipped, middle-aged woman, Jeanine (Kate Winslett), with off-the-charts control issues. All citizens must be divided into Factions: Abnegation (for the selfless), Amity (for the peaceful), Candor (for the honest), Dauntless (for the brave), and Erudite (for the intellectual). No doubt you good Presbyterian readers notice that there is no category for “spiritual” or “religious.” There is no “higher being” here and no worship. That’s a big part of the problem the film reveals: the false idols of unquestioning governmental loyalty and artificial personality division are much too flimsy to be sustainable by anyone with half a brain, which, it seems, some of the young people have.
The heroine is Tris (Shailene Woodley), who is 100% Divergent, meaning that she can easily move between all the Factions, not being exclusive to any of them. The government is chasing her because she’s a menace to their system – with her unique personality, she holds the only key to opening the 200-year-old message of the “Founders” (imagine Thomas Jefferson leaving us an encrypted Skype message). Tris has befriended Four (Theo James). They hide in the Amity camp until they’re discovered, when the government’s bounty hunter, Eric (Jai Courtney), comes after them with a vengeance. The Amity, led by Octavia Spencer, are vastly unprepared to defend themselves, assuming that to be beneath their dignity. Think Neville Chamberlain in 1938, believing he’d made peace with Hitler by letting him grab territory without a fight.
It turns out that Four has a secret of his own: the leader of the factionless rebel group is none other than his own mother, Evelyn (Naomi Watts), who abandoned him to lead her anarchist band. But can this unlikely alliance free Tris from the clutches of the Evil Empire? It seems only the Insurgent can rescue the Divergent.
Questions for Discussion:
- The hologram from The Founder looks like an angel message, directing the weary inhabitants toward a blissful reunion outside the bleak walls of their world. How is this similar to the promise of the coming Kingdom of God?
- Which Bible characters could easily be categorized using the five Factions? (Samson as Dauntless, Samuel as Amity, Nathaniel as Candor, etc.)
Ronald P. Salfen is the supply pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Kaufman, Texas.