Thursday, March 20, 2014
Divergent Adoption Movie Review
In a dystopian, futuristic Chicago, people are assigned to work and community based upon their own assessment of their personality characteristics. Once a person chooses their faction, they’re there for life. No changes are permitted, and loyalty to faction takes precedence over loyalty to blood. There are five approved factions; one (Abnegation) serves the poor and is entrusted with governing, another (Erudite) is particularly intelligent and invested in technology; others focus on courage (Dauntless), honesty (Candor), and peacefulness (Amity). There is strong societal distrust for individuals who do not neatly conform to one faction. Political tension is also rising; not everyone is happy to live under the governance of the service-to-the-poor faction, and a rebellion is rising. At the same time, Tris, a teenager who was raised in an Abnegation-faction family, chooses to leave her family and join another faction. How will she respond when the most important question becomes “loyalty to faction or loyalty to blood?”
*** Spoilers the rest of the way ***
How is This Relevant to Adoption?
Tris is forced to choose between staying with her family or joining a new one, and her choice is expected to be permanent. Her loyalty is supposed to shift, and her decision to leave is irrevocable. After she leaves her faction-of-birth, she is only able to speak with her mother covertly, and only on very rare occasions. Her new family forbids her to talk of her old one. Some kids who have been adopted might resonate with Tris’ forced, artificially-created dichotomy: You can have one family or the other, but not both. In this film, the government that created the forced separation eventually is shown to be villainous.
A community motto is shared at the ceremony where teenagers choose their factions: The future belongs to those who know where they belong. That statement seems like it could be challenging to folks, touched by adoption, who are struggling with identity issues. It also implies that “belonging” is necessarily exclusive to one group of people. Folks who are not able to be accepted by their new family become outcasts, and have no future prospects. Again, the film ultimately questions this mindset.
The film challenges the forced separation. Tris shows loyalty to her old family and to members of her new one.
Tris stays true to her unique identity, which reflects both of her families (OK, one is a faction instead of a family, but still…)
The film acknowledges, in a roundabout way, that having a complex identity is part of human nature. Tris finds great help when she realizes that she is not the only one with such a complex identity.
Tris confides in a friend, “My mom and dad died today.” Her friend’s response is, “They loved you. For them there was no better way to show you.” I can see kids responding to this in different ways. They could see this final separation as an act of love, or they could see it as their own fault – after all, the parents made this sacrifice for you. I could also see this scene tying in with kids’ and teens’ feelings about being relinquished for adoption – was it a sacrifice made on my behalf, or is it something that I’m guilty of causing?
One of Tris’ last statements in the film is powerful, and might resonate differently with different viewers, “I have nothing, and I don’t even know who I am anymore.”
There are several scenes which could be very traumatic for young viewers, and especially for kids who have experienced abuse or separation from their parents. Both of Tris’ parents are shot to death, and both of their corpses are shown on screen. Tris is forced to shoot and kill a friend. Tris’ boy friend holds a gun to her forehead while he is in a mentally-altered state.
Teenagers are forced to fight each other until unconsciousness. Boys brutalize girls. One character throws a knife at Tris, drawing blood. Later, Tris impales someone’s hand with a knife.
Tris is encouraged to keep her complex identity a secret. She’ll be killed if people know.
One of Tris’ friends tries to murder her. He fails. Later he is very ashamed. He asks for forgiveness from Tris. She refuses, and he kills himself.
Some scenes happen in hallucinations, but are still portrayed on-screen and could be triggering to some viewers. A character is forced to practice shooting innocent people at point-blank range (he is sensitive, and can only do it if he looks away as he pulls the trigger.) One character has been abused by his father. The father approaches him, intending to strike him with various objects. One of Tris’ best friends tries to rape her. Tris is ordered to murder her family.
The government eventually attempts a genocide of Tris’ culture of origin. Many people are shot.
There’s enough violence in Divergent to make it a poor choice for kids. The story itself is very interesting, and I value that it challenges the forced dichotomy of “one family, but not two.” The message is a good one, and it invites some very good conversations. Some of the scenes I’ve mentioned could be very triggering for some teenagers. If parents and teens believe that the scenes won’t be triggering, this might be a good film for viewers 13 and up. For what it’s worth, I liked this better than the most recent Hunger Games film; there seems to be more food for thought. I’m very sensitive to violence in films, and the level of violence is similar between the two films, but Hunger Games bothered me more; perhaps because Hunger Games had a lot of hand-to-hand, deadly, weapon-based violence, and the hand to hand violence in Divergent isn’t fatal. There is a lot of gun violence in Divergent, though, and that might be more troubling than hand-to-hand violence for some viewers.
Questions for Discussion after the movie
Is it OK to have a complex identity based in multiple families and cultures? How do we navigate that in a society that really seems to like categorizing people? Is it getting easier or harder to have a custom-built identity?
What good drives and traits do you have? What if you were forbidden from expressing them?
Do you feel as though you are separated from part of your identity (or part of your family) by others’ expectations?
Which faction do you think Tris should have chosen? Which would you have chosen?
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