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Arts & Entertainment Presented by Santa Barbara Center for the Performing Arts

Cinema in Focus

Cinema in Focus: ‘Divergent’

In this version of the future, the social sciences attempt to eradicate our fallen 'human nature'

By Hal Conklin and Denny Wayman | @CinemaInFocus |

3 Stars — Challenging

Like The Hunger Games, Divergent is a film depicting a strong, smart and capable young woman in the lead role.

In both films, the heroines are not only fighting for their lives against a powerful and cruel government, but they are also greatly underestimated for their unique abilities to defeat their adversaries. Both films take place after a devastating war has destroyed life as we know it, and in both, the answer for fallen humanity is a government that has removed personal freedom in order to maintain order. In both films, technology is an oppressive tool of the government rather than a solution for our problems, and in both, love remains to be a powerful healing force.

Divergent is directed by Neil Burger and based on a novel by Veronica Roth.

In Roth's post-war Chicago, the leaders not only created a protective wall around the city but also divided the people into five factions. Each faction is populated by people whose aptitude tests indicated that they would best serve society not by being a complex person with all five of the virtues, but by living lives guided by a single virtue with a singular purpose. The five virtue factions are Abnegation for the selfless, Amity for the peaceful, Candor for the honest, Dauntless for the brave and Erudite for the intelligent.

However, Beatrice or Tris (Shailene Woodley) is divergent. She does not test with an aptitude for a singular virtue, but rather she has the ability to serve with any or all of the virtues. She is the daughter of two leaders, Natalie (Ashley Judd) and Andrew (Tony Goldwyn), who belong to the Abnegation Faction.

But when Tris comes to her day of choosing the faction to which she will belong, she chooses Dauntless and begins her training in the warrior group. What she soon discovers is that in this artificially ordered world, the "human nature" that the government is trying to control has corrupted the Erudite Faction's behavioral scientific solution and a coup is in the works, but the film is far more complex and multilayered than this overarching narrative.

The themes include the power of love as exemplified by Tris and Four (Theo James), an exploration of how we deal with our fears, the freedom of choice that is inherent to human life, and the complexity of the human condition both for humanity as a whole as well as within each human being. Each of us is in fact divergent in a unique way from every other person, and we are far more complex than possessing just one of these five virtues or being suited for just one particular type of work.

But the power of this film is that it reveals that truth in a suspenseful and inventively entertaining way. For that, we look forward to the next two films in this series that are now being planned.


» The ability of a science-fiction film to place us in an imaginary world so that we can see ourselves more clearly is valuable in real life. What did you see about yourself and the human condition that you did not notice before viewing this film?

» When Four's love for Tris overrides the chemicals Jeanine (Kate Winslet) had injected in him to wipe away his memory of her, we are shown the power of the soul to override the mind. How do you think a person's soul or spirit interacts with their brain or thoughts? How do you think spiritual love is different from relational or sexual love? Why do you answer as you do?

» When Tris' parents sacrificed their lives to save her, they exemplified a love that is willing to lay down our lives for our beloved. For whom would you be willing to lay down your life to save?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.

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