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Tom Tangney

'Divergent' a perfect fit for a precocious middle-schooler

Young Adult Fiction is Hollywood's latest sweet spot. Thanks to blockbuster franchises like "Twilight" and "The Hunger Games," young teenagers, especially teenage girls, have become a driving market force.

Like its predecessors, the new movie "Divergent" is based on a series of wildly popular books about how a teenage girl navigates the tricky pathway to adulthood. In "Twilight", our heroine Bella has to face the romantic consequences of loving a vampire and a werewolf. In "The Hunger Games," our heroine Katniss has to fight her fellow teenagers to the death, just to survive, before trying to take on the corrupt society that forces her to participate in that fight.

Now, in "Divergent," our heroine Beatrice, or the much cooler sounding 'Triss' - has to do a little bit of both - fight and love. Finding your place in the world has never been tougher. What's a girl to do???????

Unlike what you may have heard - it's getting hammered by critics - "Divergent" is a mostly compelling and provocative film, as long as you keep in mind its young adult focus. It's primarily an elaborate coming-of-age metaphor set in a dystopian future.

According to our heroine's narrative, a hundred years ago after "the war," a system was put in place that founders believed would create lasting peace. Society was divided into five factions: Abnegation (meaning a selfless life of service to others), Amity (kindly, peaceful farmers), Candor (honest truth tellers), Erudite (the smart, information seekers) and Dauntless (the brave warriors.)

All teenagers are given a drug-induced aptitude test to determine which faction or lifestyle they're best suited for.

The vast majority of the teens find out they best fit in the faction they were raised in but ultimately they're free to choose whichever faction they want. The choice however is for life. When Triss decides to join Dauntless, she must leave behind her parents in the Abnegation faction forever.

These events obviously correspond to a child's maturing into adulthood, learning to detach from parents and to decide on a life of one's own. And as simplistically rigid as these five categories are, there is a grain of truth in it all, isn't there? If forced, I suspect we all could roughly divide society into five personality types.

I'm sure every reader and movie-goer privately asks himself which faction he would join, but especially if you're a young adult type.

Triss must then take on a series of strenuous physical and psychological exercises in order to earn her place in her chosen faction, something she is disturbingly good at.

"Everyone's afraid of something, but not you," she's told. "Fear doesn't shut you down. You can change everything."

How's that for an empowering message? But Triss is harboring a terrible secret. She's divergent - meaning she has an aptitude for more than one faction, three actually. And in this world, that means trouble with a capital T.

Divergents are a threat because their multiple strengths threaten the cookie-cutter vision of peaceful co-existence. And thus a young adult franchise is born.

There's no denying the fact that this story has plot holes you could fly a Boeing 777 through, but thanks to its intriguing premise and some top-notch acting, those holes don't matter as much as perhaps they should.

Shailene Woodley as Triss is every bit as good as Jennifer Lawrence is in "The Hunger Games" movies and Kate Winslett is great as the evil Erudite who has ambitions of her own. (I assume it's just a coincidence Winslett's character looks a lot like Hillary Clinton.)

The film eventually devolves into a pretty lame action pic about two-thirds of the way in, and the budding romance is embarrassingly clunky, but if you can put yourself in the mind frame of a precocious middle-schooler, you should be more than satisfied.

Tom Tangney, KIRO Radio Host, Film & Media Critic
Tom Tangney is the co-host of The Tom and Curley Show on KIRO Radio and resident enthusiast of...everything. As the film and media critic on the Morning News on KIRO Radio, he espouses his love for books, movies, TV, art, pop culture, politics, sports, and Husky football.
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By day, you can hear Tom on KIRO Radio 97.3 FM, and by night, he sits in the dark, making snide comments about what he sees on the silver screen.

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