The phenomenal success of the Harry Potter film franchise has led to the adaptation of many adventure stories from the young adult book genre to the screen. They range from magical mischief to mystical creatures to war torn societies in need of some teenage intervention. Following the footsteps of The Hunger Games, the newest dystopian book to film adaptation is Divergent.
Written by Veronica Roth in 2011, Divergent is set in the distant future, post-apocalyptic Chicago. The city is protected by a very large fence, guarded from whomever and whatever may be left in the world. Within the walls of the city a sense of harmony and structure has been created through the establishment of a faction system. Based on their core values, people are separated into the factions of Abnegation (those who are selfless), Dauntless (those who value bravery), Erudite (those who crave knowledge), Candor (those who are honest), and Amity (those who value peace). Each faction is then in charge of a specific element of society from growing food to running the government. Every year all 16 year-olds are given an aptitude test that will inform them which faction they should join. They are then presented with the choice to remain in their faction or transfer to a different one that better suits their personalities. The only thing that threatens the cohesiveness of this system happens when the aptitude test recognizes someone who fits into more than one faction, labeling the individual as Divergent.
While possessing favorable qualities from multiple factions doesn’t sound like a problem, this 1984-esque Chicago considers it as a threat to the system. Enter Beatrice “Tris” Prior (Shailene Woodley), a 16 year-old born in the selfless Abnegation faction. After the test labels her applicable to Abnegation, Dauntless, and Erudite, Tris is warned to keep the results to herself at all costs. She chooses to undergo initiation with the brave Dauntless faction, joining the group of train hopping, thrill seeking, fearless, black wearing protectors of the city. While Tris competes in a series of tasks that will test her capabilities as a Dauntless, along with her ability to hide Divergence, the city deals with dissidence between the factions due to power shifts and the fear of the Divergent.
Divergent is a movie about identity. Like many young adult stories, Tris must discover who she is and determine how willing she is to share that with a society that prizes conformity. At the beginning of the movie it’s hard to digest the direness of how the Divergent affect the city. But Woodley deftly demonstrates the combined apprehension and exhilaration of finding out she is special and considered dangerous. As instructor/love interest Four, Theo James, could’ve been plucked out of the pages of the book. He’s a smidge older looking than 18 (the actor turns 30 this year) but he plays the Dauntless instructor with the same combination of gruff no nonsense attitude and valiant moral compass found in Roth’s writing. Oscar winner Kate Winslet adds plenty of tension as the dangerous pen is mightier than the sword Erudite leader Jeanine. Fans of the book will be disappointed that Tris’ fellow Dauntless initiates lost plenty of screen time, in lieu of focusing on the budding relationship between Tris and Four. Movie watchers will have no idea who certain characters are when pivotal scenes take place, damaging the impact created by those scenes in the book. Specifically the vicious actions by one of the initiates are downsized considerably, leaving book readers to question how aspects of the story will progress in the next three films.
Divergent is rated PG-13, with a running time of 139 minutes. It was directed by Neil Burger, with a screenplay by Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor based on the book by Roth. Rounding out the cast are Ashley Judd, Tony Goldwyn, Zoe Kravitz, Jai Courtney, Ansel Elgort, Miles Teller, Maggie Q, and Ray Stevenson.
Special features include deleted scenes, audio commentary by director Neil Burger, and audio commentary by producers Douglas Wick and Lucy Fisher.
Divergent is available at most stores for $15 to $20.