“Divergent” is a 2014 dystopian science fiction film based on Veronica Roth’s novel of the same title. This futuristic movie is set in Chicago, where five factions divide society: Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless and Erudite. Those who do not belong to a faction are Factionless -- outsiders who do not have social status and privileges.
In addition, there are the Divergent who exhibit attributes of multiple factions and thus can integrate into any faction. That is, a Divergent can think independently, free from factional creeds or idiosyncrasies. The government, which seeks uniformity, thinks of the Divergent as a threat to society because they defy unity by embracing diversity. In order to survive, a Divergent must hide his or her identity.
At the age of 16, everyone is required to take a test to decide which faction is suitable for him or her. Although she was born into Abnegation, the protagonist Beatrice Prior turns out to be a Divergent in the test. Her proctor, Tori Wu, advises Prior to hide her identity in order to avoid the government’s persecution and possible execution. With the help of Four, an initiates’ instructor and trainer who is also a Divergent, Prior successfully hides her identity, and using her ability as a Divergent, she excels in the initiation training for entering Dauntless, as she has chosen.
The five factions -- Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless and Erudite -- represent the selfless, the peaceful, the honest, the brave, and the intellectual, respectively. However, they are mutually antagonistic hypocrites who are selfish, belligerent, deceitful, reckless, and unintellectual. Therefore, factional fights break out constantly.
For example, Erudite is plotting to overthrow the ruling faction, Abnegation, and seize their power. Jeanine, the leader of the Erudite, mind-controls the Dauntless army to execute those who belong to Abnegation. Using her capabilities as a Divergent, Prior succeeds in stopping the fight. At the end of the movie, Prior and Four, along with their followers, escape from the city of factions in search of diversity and multiplicity.
The futuristic city of Chicago resonates with contemporary Korean society, where mutually antagonistic factions constantly fight over political power. Like the five factions in the movie, Korean factions also claim that they represent virtues such as justice, equality, fairness, unity, and peace. However, many of them appear to be hypocrites who keep telling lies. While chanting about social justice, fairness and equality, our politicians have clandestinely savored unjust privileges behind-the-scenes. Moreover, our political leaders have divided our society into two, and they manipulate people into hating one another and fighting constantly, while chanting about peace.
Just like the Factionless in the movie, there is no place in South Korea for someone who does not belong to a faction. Indeed, a Factionless is not only a loner but also a social outcast in today’s Korean society. Therefore, you must belong to a faction in order to survive and thrive in Korea. Otherwise, you are doomed to be a social pariah excluded from the mainstream, dominant culture.
In today’s monochromatic Korean society, there seems to be no place for the Divergent either. Therefore, you should comply with the uniformity imposed on you in the name of equality and fairness. Our left-wing politicians seem to believe that everybody should be equal in wealth and intelligence. In their eyes, it would be unjust if you were richer or smarter than others.
Naturally, radicals call for the abolishment of Seoul National University because it is for the privileged only -- a place for richer and smarter people. However, is it not like asserting we should abolish Harvard or Oxford because they are for the smart and privileged? Even France did not abolish the prestigious Grandes ecoles when it reformed its public universities.
To make matters worse, our politicians are currently planning to abolish prestigious private high schools such as autonomous private high schools, foreign language high schools and even the famous elite high school, Korean Minjok Leadership Academy. Under the banner of equality and fairness, they assert that those private schools are for privileged, wealthy students only and thus we should put an end to them for the sake of equality and fairness. However, those ill-advised policies would surely deprive exceptionally bright students, whom we need for the future of Korea, of opportunities to be properly educated.
What contemporary Korean society urgently needs are not the five factions above, but rather the Factionless and Divergent that are free from factionalism and uniformity. Instead of confining ourselves to a faction, we should be able to think independently and embrace diversity. The world is not made of the bipolarity of the rich vs. the poor, or conservatives vs. progressives. There are those who exist in between, or are situated in the middle, refuting the black and white, either/or mentality and bipolarity.
Watching “Divergent,” we realize we should put an end to factionalism and uniformity. We also come to realize that we should acknowledge the middle ground, embrace diversity and seek a colorful rainbow coalition.
Kim Seong-kon is a professor emeritus of English at Seoul National University. -- Ed.