How Can We Save The World When We Cannot Even Save Ourselves?

For a variety of reasons, I am particularly fond of both reading as well as watching movie adaptations of movies about young people in peril [1]. Considering my own perilous life, I can relate a great deal to the young people. As it happened, today I watched “Divergent” with a friend of mine, and not being familiar with the series, I wanted to see what sort of insight could be provided by the film about the mindset of authors who seek to appeal to a teen or young adult audience and also whether the characters would be worthy of some emotional investment. As it happens, I was pleasantly surprised, even if I found some aspects of the movie and its world a bit troubling.

For those who are not familiar with the book or its series, Divergent, which borrows more than a little bit from Harry Potter in terms of Hogwarts-style factions and a sorting ceremony, has five factions in a post-apocalytpic Nu-Chicago: Abnegation (self-sacrificial types who are the only ones trusted to hold power, at least until the time of the movie), Dauntless (foolishly brave soldier types, similar to Griffyndor), Amity (peace-loving and friendly hippy farmer types, similar to Hufflepuff), Candor (bluntly honest folks), and Erudite (unscrupulous and ambitious intellectuals who long for a return (?) to power, a combination of Slytherin and Ravenclaw). There is a sort of segregation between the various factions, for the most part, though some of them work together and deal with the underclass of “factionless” who are not accepted anywhere and who live lives of immense poverty and purposelessness.

In watching the movie, I had two basic questions in terms of the design of the world. First of all, I wondered where I would fit personally, given that I am a rather erudite person possessed of a certain degree of austere self-sacrificial nature, reckless bravery, and a lot of candor and erudition (along with a certain amount of kindness). In the movie’s worldview, I would be very likely to end up as a divergent given the multiple approaches I take to life (erudite and candor probably the strongest among them), considering I am a deeply complicated person who is not very easy to put into a simple box. Second, I wondered about the reasons why the world was ordered the way it was. I was a bit bothered by the anti-intellectual bias of the film, given that I am pretty obviously an openly intellectual person, and it appeared as if the author of the series of novels (who is an open Christian) painted the vast majority of intellectuals as being part of that Progressive technocratic elite responsible for inflicting the world with people Woodrow Wilson and Barack Obama and others of their ilk. Not all of us deserve to be painted with that unfriendly brush. It would appear, without having read the series, that in a post-apocalyptic world, the Erudite leaders of the Democratic party lost a great deal of face even in the remnants of Chicago and had to give up power to a rather austere group of Christians supported by libertarian Candor types, organic farmers in Amity to feed the population, and soldiers in Dauntless to protect the city from outside threats and preserve internal order.

Despite the film’s seeming anti-intellectual bias, which I found troubling if understandable in light of our contemporary politics, the cast was very excellent. The two main leads of the film, Shailene Woodley and Theo Woods, are both sympathetic and complex character actors who take a fairly pedestrian script and imbue it with humor, a slow-burning romantic tension, and considerable growth and depth. A bit of political drama, relevance to contemporary culture wars, a smoldering romance, a compelling action plot that focuses on tensions between doing what it right and mindlessly following orders and being a good soldier makes for a film that offers something for adults to ponder even as it gives plenty of appealing eye candy for young men and women alike. I suppose I can pencil in this series for a spot on my reading rotation as well as consider the next two films in the series as being worth watching as well.

This film fits squarely in with a wide variety of movies where young people are asked to carry an immense burden to deliver their societies from disaster. Even though I am not necessarily young enough to be part of the target demographic of this sort of content, it provokes me to deep reflection and considerable concern. It would appear, given the general tone of young adult literature I read and movie adaptations of that literature, that the general tone of the works suggests that the great crisis of our generation will be far closer to the Civil War (an internal war between regions/worldviews) and all the destructiveness to our own society this implies than it will be to the glorious struggle of WWII on foreign shores that served to (at least temporarily) unite our society in a noble cause. Young Adult literature appears to be imbuing its readers with a certain expectation of being involved in internal conflict against a corrupt and tyrannical government, with some awareness of the damages that are going to result to the generation in terms of death and trauma.

In the larger sense, though, I do not sense among the would-be warriors of the teens and young adults who have a certain degree of cohesion and crusading spirit [2] an understanding of the limitations of seeking to create a better world from the ashes of the old world. It is easy to fight, easy to destroy, but extremely hard to build and even more difficult to rebuild a better world in its place in the aftermath of civil discord. We cannot make a world any better than we ourselves are. Likewise, to resort to violence is a failure rather than a success, however any of the conflict itself turns out. Is it too late for us to turn away from the looming disaster that we face, for which our literature is an unwitting sign of our own coming apart at the seams? Why must we sacrifice our youth because of our own folly?

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Christianity, History, Musings and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to How Can We Save The World When We Cannot Even Save Ourselves?

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