Monday, 31 March 2014

Blockbuster Weekend: Noah (new link) & Divergent

To prove that I am a nonconformist (i.e. divergent), I spent Saturday afternoon at Silver City, watching the weekend’s two biggest blockbusters. The result was not what I had anticipated, but I can’t say I’m that surprised (when it comes to film criticism, I am indeed a nonconformist as often as not). 

I have written a long review of Noah for the Canadian Mennonite and will provide a link as soon as it’s available, but I will say a few things here. First, I’m a big fan of Darren Aronofsky, who is known for making deeply disturbing and surreal indie films. I’ve loved every film he has made, and two of them (The Fountain, Requiem for a Dream) are among my all-time favourite films. Second, I know that making Noah was a long-time dream for Aronofsky and that it had nothing whatsoever to do with making a Hollywood film or making the big bucks. I can respect that, even if the film looks and feels like a Hollywood CGI thrill ride instead of the thoughtful drama I had hoped for. Third, I know Aronofsky was making a film about environmentalism and the relationship between justice and mercy. I have no doubt his heart is in the right place. Fourth, I really wanted to like this film (since people like Gareth and Jackie liked it), so I tried hard not to over-analyze or be too sensitive to the violence.

Sigh. I have to say it: ‘Epic’ fail. For me, the film’s focus on the evil in the hearts of its male figures (and humanity in general) outweighs the attempts to highlight mercy in the end. Way too much violent action (as in The Lego Movie) to allow room for a redemptive ending. Not to mention that the film only exacerbates the huge theological flaws of the Biblical account (see review). I did like Methuselah and the women and the acting of the four major actors (Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson, Anthony Hopkins). But the bottom line is that I have no interest in ever seeing Noah again. I must therefore do the unthinkable and give an Aronofsky film **+. My mug is down. 

And then along comes Neil Burger’s Divergent. The critics, who generally liked Noah, panned Divergent, so I probably wouldn’t have watched it if it hadn’t been for Janelle, who had just finished reading the book (not that she loved the book; she just thought she needed to see what the film did with it). On the other hand, I have a soft spot for dystopian films, so who knows. 

Anyway, it’s easy to see why critics panned Divergent. It is a rather simplistic and uncreative filming of a simplistic story. Shailene Woodley’s acting is flawless, but the rest of the acting (even Kate Winslet’s) is uninspiring, if passable. The Hunger Games films were much classier in every way (as was Noah), featuring much better acting and more creative cinematography and music. The romance doesn’t really work for me either, though I’ve seen worse. And then of course there’s the ending, which is full of redemptive violence (as one might expect). 

And yet ... I enjoyed Divergent much more than Noah and more than The Hunger Games films (the latter is primarily because of the games themselves, which I can’t but find offensive as a viewer, though I have no trouble with the ‘concept’). Divergent’s tale of a city divided into five factions, in which teenagers must choose their lifelong faction based on a test and their birth-faction, may be simplistic, but at least it’s a captivating thought-provoking story, not just a flashy CGI action fest. At the heart of the story is Tris, whose test is unclear, thus making her divergent, one of the most dangerous kinds of people in the city (according to the Erudite faction, at least). The concept of being divergent and why it’s so dangerous (other than making one immune to conformity) is under-developed (one of the film’s many flaws). And yet ... as someone who has always been strong-willed and resistant to conforming, I had a definite affinity to both the idea and the main characters. 

So, yes, Divergent is a flawed film, full of unexplored potential. But this is a film I would gladly see again (despite the redemptive violence, thus proving that it was not just the violence in The Lego Movie and Noah that bothered me so much). I would even like to give it ***+, but don’t feel that would be justified (as opposed to being a reaction to seeing Noah just before). So for now, Divergent gets a solid ***. My mug is up.


  1. Re: Noah - I want to interpret subtle hints in a different direction, but I realise that I am pushing it (and I have been no fan of Aronofsky). What if Noah's experience of being wrong (about what God wanted him to do with his granddaughters) was a sign that he could also have been wrong about his interpretation of God's motivation with the flood. My main problem is that I wanted the film to hint more in the direction of the flood being natural consequences (Karma if you will) rather than wrath. It's hard to make my version work with the way the film was set up. I think if I were Aronofsky, I would have strayed further from literal biblical stories and done a lot more to imply an ecological disaster brought on by a careless society (and, yes, this would have been an even worse anachronism if one has to imagine an ancient society doing that much damage to the earth). Tough challenge to re-imagine this story. But I also just have to say that the way Aronofsky imagined the watchers - just sad. I'd give it a *** as well. Lots of problems but lots of thought-provoking parts.