March 21, 2014 7:48am PT by Ashley Lee
'Divergent's' Theo James: Movie Could Be Bisexual Allegory, Gay Hero on the Way
While Divergent star Shailene Woodley has excitedly explained that the film is about strong men and women who "diverge from mediocrity!" and "stand up for what you believe in!" could it also be interpreted as a gay allegory? Specifically, one that highlights bisexuality?
When Woodley's onscreen counterpart Theo James was asked that question by The Advocate, he pondered the idea and responded, "That’s an interesting parallel to make. I hadn’t connected those dots myself, but there’s definitely truth in there. … Yeah, I can see it. That’s interesting."
The question arose because the film's dystopian society divides people into factions based on five virtues -- selflessness, peacefulness, honesty, intelligence and bravery -- and forces 16-year-olds to choose only one after taking an aptitude test for guidance. Those who test into multiple categories are considered divergent, and must keep their lack of classification a secret since the society views them as deadly threats.
"The five factions represent the basic levels of conformity, and a divergent fits into not one of them, but multiple," said James. While he noted that the film is not a direct commentary on any specific political issue, "it reflects what’s happening in the real world in an obvious way now."
He's happy about the effect it's had on audiences so far. "After seeing the movie a lot of people seem to be asking questions about the nature of society, the nature of being different, the nature of trying to fit in — deeper questions, which I’m pleased about."
Among those questions are the boundaries of gender norms -- specifically, the accepted definition of masculinity and the lack of courageous heroines onscreen.
"Divergent is a story about people who don’t fit into a category, that is a big part of the message, but it’s also about conformity and forcing people into these simple archetypes. At the end of the day humans don’t exist like that. We’re multifaceted," he explained. "We’re in a world where masculinity, especially with these big spectacle movies, is often pushed by rippling six packs and forcing an image down someone’s throat trying to prove masculinity. Whereas I think true masculinity comes from having a strong sense of self."
James said that his character's personality distinctions from other onscreen heroes is what attracted him to the role in the first place. "Part of what drew me to Four was his concept of masculinity, specifically in how he relates to Tris and their relationship. He’s intrigued by her, but respectful of her bravery and her personality traits. He’s constantly trying to push her to be as strong as possible. Through that, she is respectful of him and thus they start to respect each other. So it’s a mutual relationship rather than one based on her fawning for a man."
He continued, "Her being strong doesn’t de-masculate him, and hopefully that’s pushing a more positive message about gender equality. … It’s frustrating we still don’t see more movies featuring strong women. ... But it does seem like things are beginning to change with films like this and The Hunger Games."
Does he think a franchise led by an LGBT hero is just around the corner? "It’s very hard to tell," he said. "Because today, there are great shows like Looking, poignant pieces of work that revolve around a central cast of characters that happen to be gay. But I remember when Queer as Folk came out and thinking, 'Things are changing. Maybe there will be more.' And then suddenly there was a drought. Hopefully the day isn’t far away."