Gangs and non-gang gangs

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - DON­ALD CLARKE


Di­rected by Robert Sch­wen­tke. Star­ring Shai­lene Wood­ley, Theo James, Miles Teller, Jai Court­ney, Kate Winslet, Ansel El­gort, Zoë Kravitz, Naomi Watts. 12A cert, gen re­lease, 118 min Ev­ery now and then, as if buzzed by re­al­ity while in a fu­tur­is­tic sim­u­la­tion, you re­alise you’re watch­ing a cul­tural phe­nom­e­non that, some decades hence, will be iden­ti­fied as a key sprig in our era’s fee­ble zeit­geist.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not say­ing that Ex­i­gent or As­trin­gent or Con­tin­gent – or what­ever this se­quel to

Diver­gent is called – is in any way good. In fact, it’s pretty use­less, but, as a dis­til­la­tion of all that’s most or­di­nary about con­tem­po­rary young adult science fic­tion, it could hardly be bet­tered.

Ef­ful­gent is, at least, less weighed down by an­thro­po­log­i­cal scene-set­ting than was the first episode. As you will re­call, in a dystopian Chicago, sur­vivors of an ap­par­ent apoca­lypse are, at adult­hood, di­vided into cadres de­fined by key per­son­al­ity traits: Can­dor, Daunt­less, Eru­dite and so forth. A young woman named Tris (Shai­lene Wood­ley) is di­ag­nosed as be­ing in none of the cat­e­gories and, now of­fi­cially “Diver­gent”, lights out for the ter­ri­to­ries with other free spir­its.

The zip­pier sec­ond part finds the group meet­ing up with Naomi Watts’s bad-ass rev­o­lu­tion­ary mama, hop­ping a train in ac­cept­ably grip­ping fash­ion and try­ing to work out why evil Kate Winslet (a Tran­syl­va­nian Mary Pop­pins) is so blasted fu­ri­ous all the time.

No­body in De­ter­gent is any­thing less than com­pe­tent. Though I didn’t quite buy the scene where Tris cuts her own hair to the stan­dards of Vi­dal Sassoon, Wood­ley con­firms that, for all her Bambi flut­ters, she can flex mus­cles with the best of them. The film is grat­i­fy­ingly vi­o­lent and, in­so­far as it has a wel­come, it doesn’t out­stay it.

What re­ally grinds down the spir­its is the con­ser­vatism of it all. Even those who are not in a gang are in the non-gang gang. In­deed, there seems to be two non-gang gangs: Fac­tion­less and Diver­gent.

Set free, ev­ery­one gets the op­por­tu­nity to mildly spike their hair, wear boot-cut jeans (hon­estly!), work on their abs and oth­er­wise be­have like a mid­dle-class In­di­anan high-school stu­dent from 1998.

Cotan­gent Part I will be with us in 12 months’ time.

Shai­lene Wood­ley as Tris in ‘In­sur­gent’

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