It appears we have a fad of teenage dystopias on our hands. Without the Hunger Games trilogy being through our system yet, we have another that has reared its ugly head: Divergent.
To be clear, I don’t mean ugly in the sense that it’s a bad movie, or even that it’s bad for our culture. I mean ugly because it’s an ugly world. A society built on strict sectarian ideas. There five factions, built around the virtues of honesty, courage, selflessness, love, and wisdom (named Candor, Dauntless, Abnegation, Amity, and Erudite respectively). That seems good—except for the whole part where it’s aimed at driving division.
There are other aspects of world-building too, such as the fact that Dauntless are the soldiers, or how Amity farms and Abnegation governs the people—but the real terror of this future is found in the title: Divergent. In this world, everyone is supposed to fit in the system. But not everyone does. Those who don’t fit it anywhere are called Divergent. The system fears them because they can’t control them. Our protagonist, Tris, is such a person. It has to be kept a secret, else she risks being killed on the spot.
Tris is brought up in Abnegation, the selfless givers who live in poverty and rule the people with a loving hand. She lives in a tense time, as Erudite is vying for a power grab, secretly telling the people that Markus, the head of this dystopian society and member of Abnegation, was an abusive father. Tris is Divergent, but chooses to leave Abnegation and go to Dauntless (every individual when they come of age has the right to choose a different faction, but the choice cannot be undone later in life).
The movie follows her choice to enter Dauntless, and the trials that she faces trying to make the ranks of the fearless warriors. Any who fail to make the ranks become Factionless—left to be homeless and starving, at the mercy of Abnegation’s pity and charity. She fights hard to become a soldier, strengthening her weak body and mind with the help of friends such as Christina and Will, and they all struggle to leave behind their former factions, even though parts still remain. Christina still speaks without thought as a testament to her upbringing in Candor (and overflows with more personality than anyone else in this story)and Tris finds it hard to fight, being used to the kindness of Abnegation. It doesn’t help that they’re driven by two intense trainers, Four and Eric, the latter of which seems bent on ensuring someone doesn’t make it out alive.
Then comes the cliché. Four and Tris have to fall in love. Of course, nobody saw that coming, right? It’s almost pulled off well for a cliché, but really detracts from the intensity of the true story: how can Tris keep her secret? Can she keep her secret?
So what’s the point of the story? There’s a lot to be said about the story that can’t be said without giving huge plot spoilers (don’t worry, I’ll be sensitive), but it’s really about two things: control and who has it. The reason for the five-faction system, and the reason that Divergents are not tolerated, is that the political system seeks control over its subjects. Divergents are unpredictable, and are therefore dangerous. They must be eradicated. Nobody really buys it; the political leaders seem to be the only ones who really believe this nonsense, but they’re the only ones who have to. That’s why even before Erudite’s power grab, Tris still has to be in fear for her life. They are fighting for power amongst themselves, be she’s a danger to them both.
What should we make of such a message, especially as Christians? I will say that this presents a story that contains less rebellion than its peer The Hunger Games. Tris takes place in no organized rebellion; rather, she is one of the soldiers and tries to stop a coup. This isn’t telling us to rise up against the government. Rather, it is telling us something more valuable: you shouldn’t have to be afraid of who you are.
Does that make you uncomfortable? It makes me a little uncomfortable. It shouldn’t, but it does. Why? Because that message has been twisted to condone all sorts of sinful and devilish behavior, ranging from homosexuality to pedophilia to pornography. If it’s applied within its proper domain, however, it’s not a sinful message. Rather, it’s a beautiful message. If you’re in a public place while reading this, look around you. If you’re home with loved ones, look around you. Does everyone look the same? Note even close. God is the creator. That means he’s creative. He’s created all of us with different and unique character traits and personality types. That’s beautiful. And sometimes, our culture tells us it’s not.
We could talk about some gender stereotypes not truly associated with masculinity and femininity. Men don’t cry. Men don’t wear pink. Women wear make-up. The unrealistic standard of beauty for women. But more importantly, what about expression of opinions? Supremely important, what about expression of faith?
You see, there’s a side of this that’s lost on us sometimes. Why do world governments oppose Christianity? Could it be because it challenges them to change? Because it can’t be bullied, blackmailed, or threatened?
Because it can’t be silenced?
Because it can’t be controlled?
The message of Divergent is a good one. It tells us that sometimes when we’re mistreated, it’s because we have something to offer that people are afraid of. Something that’s good. In our case, it’s not us inherently, but it’s what we’re a part of.
Don’t let society or the system dictate your faith. Be different.