My friend Babs and I went to see “Divergent” this past weekend. The film was just about to start when five giggly tweens plopped down in the seats next to me.
“Are these seats saved?” the one closest to me asked, suddenly all girlish concern.
I was tempted to say “yes.” Who needs five texting jumping beans when you can have peace and quiet? But how dog in the manger would that be? “No, no,” I said, smiling.
I bring this up to begin with, because these tween girls are, after all, “Divergent’s” target audience. It may be “The Hunger Games” 2.0 or another American tale of the limits of conformity. But at its heart, “Divergent” is very much a virgin’s story, about growing up and learning to use your mind and body properly as you follow your heart and overcome your fears, including the fear of men.
This is one of those postapocalyptic tales in which everyone lives in a walled, ruined city (Chicago, giving New York a well-deserved break) and yet has access to the most sophisticated technology. Huh? As Aristotle might’ve put it, “Divergent” requires the suspension of disbelief – big time.
The plot revolves around Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley, looking like she could be Jennifer Lawrence’s kid sister). Our heroine’s very name sounds as if she wandered in from Nathaniel Hawthorne instead of Veronica Roth. Tris, as she renames herself, is secretly the quality of the title, because she uses her imagination and basically refuses to allow society to box her into one of five factions whose balance keep the peace. (Hollywood interprets this nonconformity by having Tris trade in her gray, shapeless Eileen Fisher-style outfits for black moto jackets, tanks and skinny pants that hug her slim figure.)
Along the way, Tris is mentored by a kindred spirit, Four (Theo James of “Downton Abbey” fame, essentially riffing on the protective tough guy with a chip on his shoulder and huge daddy issues that he played on CBS’ “Golden Boy.”)
Part of the training Tris undergoes includes fear simulation exercises, in which she must learn to use reason to find her way through them. Among those fears is Four overpowering and taking her. Once they become involved, Tris tells Four she wants to take things slow, and Four doesn’t press his advantage.
I liked that. (For a wildly divergent view of Tris and Four’s relationship, click here. Apparently, Amy Zimmerman at The Daily Beast thinks it’s a copout for a young girl in love with an older boy should want to be cautious or would be anxious about the sex that is a very real possibility in their future.)
I, on the other hand, applaud Tris’ reserve, along with the idea that while she becomes a warrior woman, the film doesn’t exaggerate her physical skills. This is a brutal world in which a young woman must use her wits as much as her fists and weaponry if she is to survive and thrive.
It’s a lesson that was probably lost on the texting tweens sitting next to me, who giggled every time Theo James came on screen.
Then again, maybe not.