Based on the first novel in Veronica Roth’s best-selling trilogy, Divergent is Hollywood’s latest young-adult (YA) adaptation of a post-apocalyptic female-centered book series. Sound familiar? This film has been viciously compared to the other famously YA novel-turned-blockbuster-movie, Hunger Games. However, what makes Divergent less popular is how director Neil Burger seems so concerned with laying franchise groundwork that he neglects to create an engaging standalone movie.
The film takes place in a decaying futuristic version of Chicago, where society has reorganized itself into five factions based on traits: Amity (kindness), Erudite (intelligence), Candor (honesty), Abnegation (selflessness) and Dauntless (bravery). If you possess more than one trait, you are Divergent.
Beatrice Prior (Tris), played by Shaillene Woodley, was born and raised in Abnegation but has trouble conforming to their standards of selflessness, and feels inadequate given her parents (Ashely Judd and Tony Goldwyn) are among the faction and government leaders. Since she and her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) have just turned 16, they are preparing for their Choosing Ceremony where they will decide which faction they will join as they move into adulthood. They must undergo a drug-induced test that will help decide which faction is best suited for them.
This should not be taken lightly. You can move into another faction, but the choice is permanent and you must leave behind your family and all you’ve known. You will have to learn an entirely new way of life, and if you fail to pass initiation, you end up factionless, condemned to life on the outskirts of society.
Screenwriters Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor took the novel, cut the fat and left the most important and memorable parts in the movie. However, some of the fan’s most favourite scenes, like the Ferris wheel scene with Tris and her trainer-turned-love interest – Four (Theo James), flew by too quickly. These are the scenes that develop character-to-character relationships and that was not present in the film.
Divergent has a very talented cast. Woodley, whose expressive eyes and vulnerable veneer hold your attention, makes up for some of the film’s storytelling deficiencies. Peter, played by Miles Teller – Woodley’s co-star from “The Spectacular Now”, utters some of the film’s funniest lines. However, it did not do well in setting up the supporting characters. Many loved characters were left underdeveloped in the film and the development of relationships between characters was lacking. Especially the relationship between Al and Christina, played by Christian Madsen and Zoe Kravitz, a relationship that was cherished in the book was left empty on the screen. There are certain events that occur in the film that, as an audience member, should have made me cry or even shed one tear. However, not even the score could help save it.
A trance-infused score by Junkie XL, with Hans Zimmer producing, is appropriately youthful while music supervisor Randall Poster has assembled a clever collection of indie rock, electronica and hip-hop. There is something for everyone. The score is heavy with techno influence, which creates a futuristic feel.
Despite the expected flaws from book to film, Burger makes it clear of the overarching themes of self-identity and defying conformity, which sprouts the comparisons between Divergent and Hunger Games. “Though the book does spend a considerable amount of time developing the relationship between Four and Tris, the movie pushes it less, so that the audience focuses more on the transformation of her character. She’s remembered for what she does, not for whom she loves.
Divergent is a fantasy that throws a young woman into the rolling waves of figuring out who she is, how she fits, and what’s right and wrong. It ultimately shows her meeting those challenges with a heart of self-sacrifice and heroism and an impassioned concern for those she loves. It advocates for us all to be more than one-dimensional beings, to strive for well roundedness as we practice a wide array of positive characteristics. And it’s one heck of a message for young fans all over the world.