To Change or Not to Change
An Analysis of Underlying Messages in the Film Divergent
Creating an award-winning film is a difficult goal for directors to achieve, but what top films throughout history all have in common is that there is always an underlying message for the audience to take away and be affected by after their experience. Many times, the lessons can be controversial, family oriented, or just a general how to better your life. Whether it is The Godfather teaching life lessons on the importance of family or Star Wars teaching the audience to show loyalty to their friends; each blockbuster film always contains an underlying message. The main purpose of directors creating these award-winning movies is to bring a story to life, enhance the audience’s imagination, and develop a lesson from the plot. The movie Divergent resembles how a director is able to intertwine multiple storytelling and film techniques in order to portray a meaningful message to the audience. Through the use of different camera movements, character’s clothing, and repeated visual symbolism; the director of Divergent created a holistic message of the importance of finding individual identity to understand yourself as well as to succeed in everyday life.
The movie Divergent features a dystopian look on what the city of Chicago turned into after a devastating war. In order to reduce the chances of another war, the government divides all citizens up into five different factions, each resembling human virtues.
The factions are divided up into Abnegation who values equality, Amity who values peace, Candor who values honesty, Dauntless who values bravery, and Erudite who values intelligence. When the adolescents of each faction turn sixteen, they are required to take a test that will suggest to them on which faction to choose at the “Choosing Ceremony”. If they do not match up with any factions, they risk becoming factionless, the equivalent of being homeless. Once they have chosen their new faction, they cannot return to their old one, nor visit their families. The main character, Beatrice, is faced with the predicament of her test resulting in inconclusive, otherwise called, divergent. Beatrice is a rare individual who encompasses all the faction’s virtues equally, but the government despises divergent individuals because of the fear that they will damage the delicate system that is already in place. The rest of the film takes the audience on Beatrice’s journey of hiding her divergent qualities and forcing the identity of her new faction to become her own.
In order for the director, Neil Burger, to fully show Beatrice’s conquest to find her identity, he had to shape the identity of the different factions. The simplistic techniques of using costume color to reflect each faction, creates a holistic picture for the audience to remember which characters belong to which faction. Clothing can be dire to developing the plot of any movie; proven by Stella Bruzzi, a film professor at the University of London, who analyzed the difference between high and low-quality films and found that,
“Clothes are not mere accessories, but are key elements in the construction of cinematic identities” (Bruzzi).
The faction Abnegation, which is the faction that runs the government, dresses in bland grey tones along with simplistic hair styles that resembles the importance of equality. Amity dresses in yellow and red tones that symbolizes the bright colors of the sun and happiness. Candor dresses in black and white to parallel their thoughts on giving advice; they do not see the gray area in situations, but rather in black and white. Dauntless, the police, dresses in all black and are covered in tattoos and piercings to resemble intimidation and rebellion. Lastly, Erudite dresses in blue, which is commonly believed as a calming color, creating a reminder for this faction to remain calm as their minds are constantly working and learning. The intentional separation of the factions from their values down to their clothing, exhibits the importance of identity within this dystopian society and foreshadows the struggle Beatrice will endure while navigating through her uncertainty.
Many directors utilize the French technique, mise en scene, to intentionally use the placement of different objects, characters, and camera movements to aid the audience in establishing meaning and provoking emotions (Cassidy). Neil Burger uses different camera positions to display the character’s emotions and inner thoughts. There is a common theme of the camera movements and positions used throughout the movie including point of view shots, high angled, circled shots, and close up (Cassidy). These camera positions combined aid the director in portraying the common theme of the film, the quest for identity. Burger uses the idea of, “Elements of on-screen motion in film hold specific meanings and contexts depending on their usage in the moving image” to achieve his goal of bringing the film’s message to the audience (New Visual Studies Findings). In Divergent, these camera movements and positions help show the inner conflict Beatrice has with not knowing the correct faction she fits into and the constant battle of her having to hide her true identity as being divergent.
There is always a definite purpose for each camera position and movement,
“whether it is a character movement or camera movement, the idea that motion within a film frame is crucial and can be meaningful, has been advanced by leading film scholars” (New Visual Studies Findings).
The point of view shots in scenes like Beatrice taking the aptitude test and the choosing ceremony, shows the setting around her as well as the reaction of the people near her (Cassidy). In these scenes, the camera is also somewhat shaky and moving quickly to portray Beatrice’s nervousness in the point of view of her eyes. This type of shot was intentionally chosen to make apparent Beatrice’s inner feelings of confusion and nervousness to the audience, so that they’ll grasp her loss of identity.
Positions like high angled shots create a sense of vulnerability toward the victim or the person that the camera shot is displaying (Cassidy). This shot was present in scenes where Beatrice was portrayed as weak or hurt, like when she was nearly beat to death in the Dauntless training program. The fact that Beatrice does not fully fit into the faction that she chose, is shown through these high angled shots as she is failing to conform her identity with her new faction. Circle shots are used to show confusion and loss of direction (Cassidy). These shots were often used when Beatrice or her friend Four were looking for the next direction to hide after the government took over. The idea that the characters heads are “spinning in circles” is shown in the circular shot, to portray how both characters do not know their own identity enough to help them out of the dangerous situation they are in. Lastly, the close-up shots were used to show the minor facial reactions of the characters to a certain event (Cassidy). This shot was used the most out of all the others, due to the importance for the audience to accurately feel the lost sense of identity and the stress that comes along with the characters not knowing their true self.
Neil Burger answers the question of whether having one single identity is vital to succeed in life, by changing and using a variety of the clothing colors, symbolisms, and specific camera shots, to parallel the morphing identities of the characters. Burger points out the flawed ideal of a single identity, that this dystopian society re-built on and proves that having an ever-changing identity can be beneficial in the long run. The characters prove that they are aware of their unique identity and instead of fearing this ideal, they embrace it and save themselves as they accept their new-found realization.
Cassidy, Kyle. “Camera Movement Techniques.” UGA Libraries Off-Campus Login, York Publishing, Oct. 2017, proxy-remote.galib.uga.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct&db=edsgao&AN=edsgcl.506828658&site=eds-live.
Bruzzi, Stella. Undressing Cinema: Clothing and Identity in the Movies. Routledge, 2004.
“New Visual Studies Findings Has Been Reported by Investigators at Cleveland State University (Which way did he go? Film lateral movement and spectator interpretation).” Journal of Technology & Science, 13 May 2018.Academic OneFile, http://link.galegroup.com.proxy-remote.galib.uga.edu/apps/doc/A537521326/AONE?u=uga&sid=AONE&xid=e0554d85. Accessed 15 Nov. 2018.