Monday, March 23, 2015

Definitive Review

To no one's surprise, Insurgent, the second movie in the Divergent trilogy (which will be split into four movies), was the highest-grossing film of the weekend.  It's also a critical flop.  But that doesn't mean that anything you say against it is true.

Take Amy Nicholson's nasty review in the LA Weekly (and elsewhere).  She thinks the whole dystopian set-up makes no sense.  Lighten up, Amy--the main fun of such books and movies is how their post-apocalyptic worlds operate.

In the Divergent series, the entire community is fenced in, living in and around the ruins of what was Chicago.  Each person's aptitude is tested at a young age, after which they must choose which faction to join. The five groups that makes up society are Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Slytherin...excuse me, I mean Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless and Erudite--and congratulations to author Veronica Roth for introducing these vocabulary words to millions.  Most stick with the gang they were raised in, but not our heroine, teenage Tris, who's born into Abnegation but chooses Dauntless. (She better choose Dauntless or we're not going to have much action.)

Abnegation serves others, Amity are the farmers, Candor runs the court system, Dauntless are the police and/or militia, and Erudite are the doctors, scientists and teachers.  Kind of cool, I'd say.  Not really worth picking holes in.  But that doesn't stop Nicholson from grumbling.  Why are Amity farmers, for instance?  Well, why not?  Someone's got to grow the crops, so why shouldn't the easygoing, back-to-nature types prefer a simple bucolic setting, rather than the more harried, confrontational world of the city.

Nicholson also doesn't think the math adds up--why would you want one-fifth of society to be lawyers, for instance?  You wouldn't, but I don't recall the movies saying each clan represents 20% of the population.  In fact, I'd hope that vast majority are Amity, since raising food is the most important activity around.

But Nicholson seems most exercised about Tris, because she doesn't clearly fit into any group, and is thus "divergent."

...there's a [...] furtive faction who register positive for the traits of all five tribes, classifying them as Divergent. One would think that people who combine the separate traits would be called Convergent, but then one would be expecting the source material to exert the barest minimum effort.

Nicholson is wrong--the divergent simply have inconclusive aptitude tests--but let's forget that.  The bigger point is calling this group convergent makes no sense, dramatically or etymologically.  The whole point of this book--indeed, every teen book ever written--is to have a lead character who doesn't fit in. (And discovers it's because she's special, aka, better than everyone else, but that's for later.)  And, in fact, by the dictionary definition, Tris is divergent.  She can develop in different directions, not just one.  Furthermore, in her society, she's divergent as she doesn't fit neatly into any one category.

To put it into terms Nicholson can understand, imagine a society where everyone is divided into racial groups.  Then you get a mixed-race individual, and this person's treated as an outsider.  Would Nicholson complain "they wouldn't do that--this person is more inside than anyone since she shares the traits of all the groups."

Nicholson ends her review lamenting: "If only [the filmmakers had] spent a few bucks on the latest Merriam-Webster." Sounds like she might want to spend some time paging through a dictionary herself.


Blogger ColumbusGuy said...

Ah, self-abnegation, the most important word in government. I mean, of course, the least important.

And I'd be complaining about candor running the courts. No matter how fantastic the fiction, there has to be some semblance of plausibility.

3:41 PM, March 23, 2015  
Blogger LAGuy said...

You obviously think you're Erudite.

9:52 PM, March 23, 2015  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dystopia used to be more fun

7:30 AM, March 24, 2015  
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