Thursday, February 12, 2015

What Just Happened

I watched Divergent. And I liked it. So I watched it again a couple days later. And I still like it.

What just happened?

Like so many other books, I've been hearing about the Divergent series and Veronica Roth for years. I knew the very basic premise, though I'm not even sure where exactly I heard about it (wait, no, I think it was on Kayley Hyde's book channel on Youtube two or three years ago). But it never interested me. I only watched the movie because I'd been working hard during the day and wanted to just sit and watch a movie, so why not this one. And then I liked it. I just enjoyed watching it, was kind of sorry when it ended, and kept thinking about it afterward. I have so much that I want to talk about as relates to this movie that I'm going to have to divide it all into sections.

I. Why I hesitated to say I liked the movie.

Why, though, was I almost ashamed to admit that I'd liked it? Why, though I felt like I would really want to read the books, did I feel like I wouldn't want to walk into a bookstore and buy them? Why is that? It has to do with two things. The first is the fact that it's YA. I'm years away from my teens now, so I don't exactly want teen fiction to take up too much space in what I'm reading--I've nothing against reading a variety of age groups (I can't wait to read Gayle Forman's new book, and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH is probably still one of my favorite books), but sometimes I hesitate with the YA. It's been so popular lately that I kind of feel like it's easy to miss out on other things, other perspectives, and other themes by leaning too heavily into YA.

The other reason why is that I hesitate to get into things that are already popular. I know that this is terrible, just as bad as not getting into things that aren't popular. But when you pride yourself on enjoying things that you have specifically connected with without anyone else telling you to like them, it's hard to so easily take a popular recommendation. I'd been hearing about Divergent for so long that it didn't feel like anything that I would be able to make a personal connection with anymore: so many other people had already made it their own that what could it have left for me?

But the thing is, despite all of this, I did make a personal connection with this story--and it would have been a shame for me to miss out on that.

II. Why I liked the movie.

In the first stages, I was thinking of it as an action movie for the female mind. Please don't think I'm being simplistic or backward here: I know that male or female has nothing to do with what kind of movie you like, whether you like more action or drama or this or that. But we do generically refer to certain action movies as guy movies, in the same way that there are chick flicks. (For the record, I don't usually like either one.) Divergent was like an action movie that I could enjoy. It was exciting because, whatever was happening, I always felt like I was in Tris's mind. When everyone is getting ready to jump from the train for the first time, you're feeling her adrenaline and her desire to fit in with this new crowd that she's admired and to start her new life here despite any fear she still has from her old life. I feel like there sometimes wasn't much dialogue and yet I could hear so many of the characters' thoughts.

The characters are all alive, and they're all people I wanted to keep watching and learn about and see. I've fallen in love with Tris and Four, in the literary sense. I want them to find happiness in their lives, but I also want to watch them get there. I want to see their journey; I want to see every emotion, every thought, every moment, every action as it happens. All of the characters brought so much to the movie that, whatever world they were in or whatever plot was going on, the story felt full.

I also really cared for the way that the Divergents were portrayed. As someone who has never exactly fit in and has eventually come to value that trait because of everything else it expresses about me, I thought this portrayal was both realistic and hopeful, or bright. The inability to fall into a category doesn't mean that you're a rebel or that you're odd or that you're perfect; it just means that your mind pulls in many directions. When someone asks you what you value most, you have trouble answering--unless you answer something intangible, like family or morality. I never did like those tests you would take in school to see what category you fit into--whether you were organized or creative or compassionate: sometimes which category I'm in depends on a my mood in a single moment, so how can I choose just one? Anyway, Tris and Four are both wonderful; I don't know how they read in the book, but I loved them on the screen. Driven, courageous, brave, smart, and kind. There is such power, such power of humanity, in who they are.

While I'm at it, I also appreciated that there was a love story without that being the only that is important about the story as a whole. I'll enjoy a good love story and I enjoyed this one; I just don't like every story to have that as its main and sole focus. Tris also had her family and her friends and this whole other plot going on besides just the love story.

III. On genre.

I used to say I didn't like dystopia. I felt like there is already so much sorrow in the world to go and make such a terrible fictional world as dystopia. But Divergent didn't really feel like the picture I'd had in my head of dystopia. Maybe it's because this was only the first installment in the story, the part before all the corruption in the system comes to public light. Either way, I felt like there was more than just horror and the need for rebellion and hope in absolute darkness. Just in hearing how the society works, we know it's odd, so it isn't surprising to find that there is corruption. However, this story started out on a different level: it starts with one character trying to figure out who she is and be who she wants to be. And she succeeds--that was the part about the story that I liked.

IV. On predictable plots.

I realize that there are things in this story that have been done before. But is that any reason, on its own, to not like it? When you study literature, you find that things written at the same time share many traits that only grow more and more obvious with the passage of time--but that doesn't stop you from reading them. It just enhances your reading as you figure out why certain themes or plot elements or stylistic tendencies were so commonly used; it can say a lot about the society that produced these books. And when stories are similar to each other, then the subtle differences stand out more and you can maybe even appreciate them better.

If you know what kind of a plot is unfolding in a movie you're watching, that's okay as long as it's carried out well. And as I said, the characters drove this story so well for me that I didn't mind if I knew where it was all headed. I just wanted to watch them get there.

V. On fiction and entertainment.

It is unnecessary for something to be great art in order for it to be valuable--and sometimes the less that something is considered "great," the more valuable it is. Again, when you study literature, this is something you'll see. You'll slog through Paradise Lost and "The Wasteland" and say, wow, I'm glad those are so influential to literature but I'm so glad I'm finally finished reading them because I hated them. (Or movie-wise, you'll watch Citizen Kane and be bored despite it being "one of the best films ever.) Then you'll go back to Jane Eyre, which was just a piece of fiction and while it's still highly respected it isn't considered as much great art as other things--except by people who like it; and you'll enjoy it and connect with it in a way that you never could with "The Wasteland." You'll read random books that everyone else has forgotten just because they were part of a certain writing at the time or were popular in their day.

Do you see what I'm getting at? Value in fiction is personal. If you made a connection with it, that's valuable. If many people connected with it, then that's significant. Sometimes you look up to fiction because it awed you with its brilliant delivery of form and theme. Sometimes you just really enjoyed it, and that isn't something to discredit.

So there it is. I had a wonderful time with this story and I don't really want to wait until 2017 to see the end of it with the just the movies. So when I had to run into Wal-mart today for something, I picked up the first two books. And here's something entertaining: the books I'm planning to buy next time I'm in Phoenix are The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis, The Reason by Lacey Sturm, I Was Here by Gayle Forman, and now the last of the Divergent series by Veronica Roth.

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