Film No 32 (2014) : Divergent

divergent filmNew York, New York – so good they named it twice.

Divergent, Divergent – so good we watched it twice! Seriously, we viewed it twice in 2 days.

The 2014 film adaptation of the novel features Shailene Woodley as Tris  and Ansel Elgort as her brother, Caleb (the pair are also cast opposite one another in The Fault in our Stars). Four is played by Theo James (a local-born lad, went to Aylesbury Grammar) and the movie also stars Ashley Judd (Natalie, Tris’ mother) and Kate Winslet. Directed by Neil Burger, it is a faithful adaptation of the novel, although the book goes into far more detail about the friendships and tensions which develop between the Dauntless initiates. I also found that, somewhat surprisingly, the violence in the written version was more graphic than on-screen. This film has a great soundtrack, with Ellie Goulding, Snow Patrol and Kendrick Lamar.

Even if you have not read the book, this is a great action movie, with plenty of food for thought. When I was younger, I don’t remember watching many films aimed at teenagers which made me think that deeply about anything – there was not much between ‘Midnight Express’ and ‘Grease’! Tris’ tests as part of the Dauntless initiation certainly made me reflect upon my own attitudes to fear, whether mental or physical. I’ve never been in a situation where I faced real physical danger (unless you count getting snow-bound in my Ford Fiesta on the A90 in Forfar), mental fears are more my forte. I’m frightened of failing, of exposure, of humiliation, frightened to even try sometimes. Beating our inner demons seems to require far more courage than overcoming more tangible ones.

Dauntless never give up. Tris makes the cut, but I am not sure I would.


Film No 29 (2014) : The Fault in Our Stars

fault in our starsIf you have read the book, you have seen the film. In terms of faithfulness to the original, this screen adaptation of John Green’s novel is virtually unchanged from the written work.

Hazel and Augustus meet at a support group for young cancer sufferers. Their relationship develops slowly; Hazel is unwilling to commit as she does not want to put Gus through the pain of  losing her. However, in the way of all true romance, their love for one another is inevitable and unavoidable. Hazel persuades Gus to read her favourite novel, which ends abruptly when its main character dies. Hazel desperately wants to visit the author of the book to ask him to explain what happens to the characters, after the death of the heroine. With Gus’ help, Hazel makes the trip to Amsterdam to meet the writer, Peter Van Houten, but the reception she receives from him is not the one she hoped for. Following a disastrous meeting with Van Houten, Hazel and Gus take some time out in the city, but their adventure ends in sadness when one of them has to reveal that their cancer has returned. Faced with the reality of terminal illness, the couple returns home and tries to make the most of their time together.

Shailene Woodley (Hazel) plays her part with a natural poignancy which is difficult not to like. Ansel Elgort (Gus) is a relative newcomer to cinema, but this film is bound to shoot him to superstardom. Laura Dern and Sam Trammell star as Hazel’s parents and Willem Dafoe is stunning as the drunk and dysfunctional Van Houten.

As a film, ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ does have a point to make, along the ‘make every day count’ lines. I’m not sure how well the film-makers have achieved the aim of instilling optimism though, as the movie is overhwelmingly sad. (The woman behind me in the cinema was literally sobbing). I might have been moved to tears had I not been familiar with the plot, but as it was, I remained dry-eyed. My main issue with the film, and indeed the book, is that it glamourises and romanticises terminal illness. I am lucky enough not to have had the experience of watching a teenager struggle with cancer, but I can’t imagine it is at all romantic. I’d guess it is God-awful on so many levels, none of which I feel particularly well-equipped to contemplate or comment upon, but I struggle to find teenagers dying a source of entertainment. Whilst watching the film, I was too painfully aware that there are real parents and their teenagers, siblings and friends, struggling with the stress and pain of incurable cancer; ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ offered no meaningful insights. It just felt like a cheap shot.