At the prodding of some family members, I went with them a couple of weeks ago to watch what would turn out to be the worst film I have viewed in a theater in recent memory… Insurgent. But Divergent was so promising, so I got a copy of the books before the Lenten holidays, and was duly rewarded. Like most cinematized novels, Insurgent turned out to be much better as a book than as a film.
Like the Hunger Games Trilogy, Divergent is set in post-apocalyptic North America, mostly in Chicago, in which each 16-year-old has to enter a serum-activated dream-like sequence, called a simulation, used to determine one’s aptitude and appropriate faction (sector of society) – Erudite (trait: intelligent; symbol: eye) for scientists, doctors, and teachers; Amity (trait: peace-loving; symbol: tree) for farmers and counselors; Candor (trait: honest; symbol: scales) for judges; Dauntless (trait: brave; symbol: fire) for Fence Guards, soldiers, and weapons makers; and Abnegation (trait: selfless; symbol: helping hands) for leaders of government. Each person may, during the annual Choosing Ceremony, opt to join a faction other than the one that he or she was born in. After choosing a faction, the person must undergo initiation, failure in which would render the person factionless, and consequently homeless. And then there are the Divergent, who, because of their multiple aptitudes, don’t fit neatly in one faction and mostly end up factionless. When the trilogy begins, the Erudite leader had begun to take steps to wrest control of the city from Abnegation, and find all the Divergent.
Note: Spoilers here!!!
BOOK 1: Divergent
When Beatrice Prior’s simulation reveals that she has equal aptitude for Abnegation, Dauntless, and Erudite, her test administrator Tori (Dauntless, Divergent) destroys her record, tells her that she is Divergent, and warns her not to tell anyone. During the Choosing Ceremony, Beatrice transfers to Dauntless, while her brother Caleb transfers to Erudite, to the shock of their father, Andrew (Abnegation, Erudite-born), but not their mother, Natalie (Abnegation, formerly Dauntless), who had earlier assured Beatrice of her love no matter what. During the three-stage initiation process, Beatrice takes the name Tris; befriends fellow initiates Christine (Erudite-born), Will (Candor-born), and a couple more; gets almost killed by Peter (Erudite-born), if not for the timely rescue of her instructor, Tobias Eaton, also known as Four (for having only four fears, one of which is his cruel father, Marcus), whom Tris falls in love with. Despite her being the shortest and thinnest of the Dauntless initiates, she tops her batch, particularly in the simulations, due to her being Divergent.
When the Dauntless leaders connive with the Erudite leader, Jeanine Matthews, to inject all the Dauntless with a serum through which she can compel them to exterminate Abnegation, Tris, Four, and Tori, who are unaffected by the serum, fight back and win. In the process: Natalie dies saving Tris; Tris kills Will (though done in self defense, she won’t be able to hold a gun steadily from then on); Tris is reunited with Andrew and Caleb and together with Marcus they go back to Dauntless headquarters to deactivate the software enabling Jeanine to control the Dauntless; Andrew dies protecting Tris; and Tris almost dies at the hands of Four, who was injected with a serum that reverses in his mind his friends and enemies, but who breaks out of the simulation when Tris yields her gun to Four, confusing the simulation. After this, Tris, Four, Caleb, and Marcus flee to Amity, where other Abnegation members have already sought refuge.
RATING AND COMMENTS: I give this book 3 stars out of 5. Veronica Roth’s world-building is certainly better than Suzanne Collins’ (Hunger Games). Centuries ago, the government performed widespread genetic modification to eliminate crime, but this led to personality imbalances (e.g., some individuals were brave but didn’t think things through; some were intelligent but lacked compassion; some were selfless but rarely laughed), which led not to a decrease but to an increase in crime, which was blamed by the genetically pure (GP) on those whom they called the genetically damaged (GD), which led to the Purity War that killed half of America’s population. Further genetic modification could not restore the balance, so an experimental community was designed in which those who were similar in terms of their imbalances lived together in factions, but each faction contributed to society as a whole. But the factions themselves were not what was most important; the factions were designed to prolong peace so that genetically healed offspring – the Divergent – could be produced. By the time Beatrice comes of age, however, the faction system had begun to crumble and the Divergent were being hunted.
The character I like the most in Book 1 (and in the whole trilogy) is Tris’ mom, Natalie, who organized Abnegation to feed and provide for the factionless, and who dies to save her daughter. Unknown to any in the city (and to the readers of Book 1), at the age of 16 Natalie Wright volunteered to enter the city from the outside world to help avert a crisis brewing in Erudite. She went to Dauntless and was supposed to transfer to Erudite, but she and Andrew met, and because he had to leave Erudite (because he couldn’t stomach the growing cold ambition of the Erudite leader’s protégé, Jeanine), the pair transferred to Abnegation instead. There Natalie continued her mission silently (by keeping the factionless and, therefore, the Dauntless within, alive) while being a loving wife and mother. Wow, what a woman!
BOOK 2: Insurgent
Amity leader Johanna Reyes (whose face, unlike in the film, is marred by a thick scar running from her blind left eye down to her lips) tries to hide the four from Jeanine’s minions, but the soldiers find them and almost kill Peter, if not for Tris’ fast action. Fleeing, Tris, Four, and Caleb run into the factionless, who are led by Four’s mother, Evelyn Johnson (formerly Abnegation, Erudite-born). Evelyn had to leave Abnegation when she divorced her cruel husband, which Tobias, then only six, never forgave her for. Evelyn is preparing the factionless to topple Jeanine Matthews and Erudite. Tris and Four then go to Candor to meet with Dauntless members who have not defected to Erudite. Injected with the Candor truth serum, Four tells everyone of Jeanine’s treachery. Dauntless traitors then come firing at everyone, injecting them with another Jeanine-concocted mind-controlling serum. When two persons commit suicide due to the serum, and Jeanine promises more suicides unless all Divergent persons show themselves at Erudite, Tris surrenders to Jeanine. She is deeply hurt when she finds that Caleb had returned to Erudite and had been helping Jeanine develop a serum to control Divergents, killing so many of them in the process. Her serum fails to control Tris, however, and so she orders Tris’ execution, but Peter (who like Caleb had also defected to Erudite) saves her because he can’t live in her debt. He and Tobias bring her out of Erudite. The factionless led by Evelyn combine forces with the Dauntless loyals (led by Tori and Tobias) and storm Erudite; meanwhile Tris, Christine, Cara (Erudite) and Fernando (Erudite), help Marcus get an important video file stored in Jeanine’s lab. (It is short-lived Fernando who calls the team Insurgent.) Tori kills Jeanine, Evelyn claims the victory before Tori does and abolishes the factions, and Tris and Tobias manage to play the video on the giant Erudite monitors. In the video, a woman named Edith Prior explains that the factions were an experiment designed to produce the Divergent, who are to rescue the world outside once they have reached a critical mass.
RATING AND COMMENTS: While I would grudgingly give the film half a star, I would give the book 3 stars out of 5. There’s more action here than in Books 1 or 3, and it has the best ending – the defeat of the antagonist, the abolition of the factions, and the mystery of the world outside. Too bad the film bungles it by introducing that weird box that “only the strongest Divergent can open” (ugh!), and by portraying Evelyn as a bitch who kills Jeanine in cold blood, which of course never happens in the book (grrr!).
BOOK 3: Allegiant
Johanna and Cara lead the Allegiant, a rebel group that believes in returning to the original purpose of the community, as articulated by Edith Prior. Johanna stays behind to lead the Allegiant in the city, while Cara leads the Allegiant team, which includes Tris and Four, that will go outside. Before they leave, Tris gets Four to rescue Caleb, who was to be executed for treason, and she brings Caleb with them, despite her anger at him for his betrayal. They eventually come to the Bureau of Genetic Welfare (but not before Tori is killed by Dauntless Fence Guards), where they were told of the massive genetic modification that happened centuries ago and the Purity War that resulted from it. Since the end of that war, the Bureau had been working toward “genetic healing,” and Chicago was their most successful experiment in that the city’s inhabitants managed to live in relative peace for a sufficiently long time to produce Divergents. However, war is now brewing between Evelyn’s factionless and Marcus/Johanna’s Allegiant (yes, Marcus was able to convince Johanna to let him co-lead the Allegiant), and so the Bureau’s Council decides to “reset” the memories of the city’s inhabitants, something which it had already done before, using an aerosol memory serum. When the Allegiants hear of this, they split into two subteams: Tobias and Christine are to return to Chicago to inoculate key persons; while Cara, Tris, and Caleb are to steal the serum and release it on the Council instead. When Tobias gives his mother the choice to give up the war or else lose him, she decides to get her son back, and cedes control over the city to Johanna (but not Marcus), thus averting civil war and healing Tobias’ wounded soul. The team in the Bureau also succeeds in resetting the memories of the Council members, but Tris dies saving Caleb in the process. (This is my only consolation for multi-awarded Saoirse Ronan not being cast as Beatrice Prior – I would have hated to see her die). Two years later, Johanna serves as representative of new Chicago to the world outside, and people can freely join the city or leave it. Tobias serves as Johanna’s assistant, and his mother returns to stay with him for a while after two years of life outside the city.
RATING AND COMMENTS: Like the third book in the Hunger Games trilogy, the third book in the Divergent trilogy is also the weakest. Though this book provides a lot of historical background such as how the factions came to be, the purpose of the aptitude test that every 16-year-old had to take (which was for the Bureau to spot Divergents), and even the genealogies of Beatrice and Tobias, and shows how discrimination can exist anywhere – in Chicago, the GD discriminate against the GP (i.e., the Divergent), whereas in the outside world, the GD are the ones discriminated against – the book remains as boring as the man who headed the Bureau, whose family name was not even mentioned in the book, and whom I didn’t bother to name in the summary above. But there’s a character I liked in Book 3 – Caleb, who, despite the Erudite aversion for selfless acts, volunteers to ingest the death serum to get to the memory serum in order to atone for what he eventually learned to understand and accept was his betrayal of his family and humanity in Book 2. Tris agrees to this setup originally, but probably couldn’t handle the guilt in the end, and so manages to switch places with Caleb.
I give the book 2.5 stars. But Summit Entertainment, being the producer of Twilight, is splitting the third book into two films! Money, money, money.
No way am I watching those two films.
Thanks to Veronica Roth for a good yarn. I’m glad to have rested my mind. 🙂 Tomorrow, I will reflect on and blog about a more serious book, N. T. Wright’s The Challenge of Jesus.
UPDATE (March 9, 2016): Since I haven’t watched a movie in a while, I ended up watching Allegiant earlier this evening here in Nuvali. The film departs significantly from the book, and so, as is usually the case when a film does that, this one is even worse than the book, which is already worse than the 2 earlier installments. 😦