I am especially fond of those writers who know story archetypes and icons so well that they see them anew, transforming the familiar into something clever and fresh. The author of the Divergent series, Veronica Roth, is such a writer. She has taken threads from other popular stories, both old and new, classic and contemporary, and she has stitched them together into a brand new, wonderful whole. We should take a lesson from her: we should read, read, and read more books with pleasure and with an eye to reinvent stories in the service of our own characters and outcomes.
In the interest of full disclosure and complete candor, both of which I’ve honored from the inception of this blog, I must admit now that I have not read Roth’s books although I'm almost finished with the first in the series. I was drawn to read them through the film, Divergent, while listening to interviews featuring the young adult stars, and as a result of my daughter’s love of the series. Now I plan to read them all, but also believe that we can read and analyze films using the same tools for analysis as we use for stories.
Fiction Story Thread, the First, in Divergent, the Film: Dystopia, characterized as
- a society reborn after a catastrophe,
- one tightly structured to insure order and safety
- in a world divided between altruism and territorial struggle.
|"Aftermath" by Al Griffin Photography|
Divergent, the film, is set in the shell of a once-vital city: Chicago. Around the big town is a tall fence resembling a power grid. Beyond are the fields where some survivors grow foods needed for the entire city. What lies beyond those fields is an unknown. Some believe it is desolate, uninhabited while others believe it is populated by interlopers, humans in need of a fence to prevent them from invading and making war again. The novel makes the point that the gates are locked from the outside, causing the protagonist to wonder if survivors are being locked in or interlopers locked out.
In addition to the few survivors serving as farm workers are individuals who perform tasks according to their talents as determined by a futuristic test providing a window into the brains of humans. These functions define the factions--neighborhoods, if you will--and these are Amity, Candor, Abnegation, Erudite, and Dauntless. On the fringes are those who do not belong, the faction-less.
The world of Divergent is so afraid of itself that it demands absolute loyalty to these factions. Citizens of this brave new world profess Faction before blood in the conviction that the new world supplants parents and must be the sole arbiter of order and justice. Human nature, left to its own path, will surely follow another path to disorder, chaos, more war, this time perhaps resulting in total annihilation so in dystopian stories, the survivors have invented what, to them, is a Utopia designed to inhibit the dangerous aspects of human nature: oppression, rebellion, and self-interest.
Read Divergent, the film. Read also one or more of the following dystopian tales:
- Plato’s Republic. A filmed analysis of this work exists.
- Huxley’s Brave New World. A film has been contemplated.
- Rand’s Anthem. A screenplay has been written.
- Orwell’s 1984. A film adaptation exists.
- Collins’ The Hunger Games series. Films released for this series have been mega-hits.
- Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. This book has been adapted to film.
- Atwood’s The Handmaid's Tale. This book was adapted to film.
- Lowry’s The Giver. This film is due to be released in August, 2014.
Write a brief journal entry or essay explaining the characteristics of dystopian stories:
- Urban setting, featuring bombed or burned out buildings and broken transportation and/or communication networks
- Tightly structured society divided into classes or groups with intellect and brawn deciding factors
- Conflict between freedom and oppression and between peace and anarchy as both the causes of and reasons for the current social structure