Divergent (Neil Burger, 2014)
Following in the footsteps of successful book to film adaptations of young adult trilogies such as Twilight and The Hunger Games, comes Divergent, the first of the Divergent Series written by Veronica Roth. I had mixed expectations for this one – the comparisons with The Hunger Games were definitely appealing, but I had heard less than favourable reports about the books, and the teaser trailer looked pretty atrocious (it involves probably the worst scene in the film).
However, I was pleasantly surprised. I really loved the premise of Divergent – set in a dystopian future, society is split into five factions based on personality types: Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), Erudite (the intelligent), Abnegation (the selfless), and Candor (the honest). It’s fun to ponder which faction you might be in (putting aside the fact that most people bear all these qualities to some degree) and I’m going with Candor. But back to the plot: Until they turn sixteen, individuals live within their family’s faction. Each year all sixteen year olds are required to choose which faction they will devote the rest of their lives to. Prior to this they undergo a test which shows them which faction they are best suited to, however the final choice is theirs. Our protagonist Tris (Shailene Woodley), whose family are from Abnegation, does not produce a conclusive test result, thus making her a ‘Divergent’. Divergents are considered a threat to those in power and must hide their status and go along with their chosen faction. Divergent thus contains a great message about those who are unique/different being the truly powerful ones.
The first film in the trilogy involves an interesting focus on our personal fears, which includes obvious fears of heights, birds, fire, drowning, but also those which go deeper. I found one of Tris’ fears somewhat odd, and it didn’t seem to have much context (maybe in the book it does). It is a fear that many women likely have but given who was involved I found it unexpected. I was unsure what to make of it – you will know what I’m referring to when you see it. Comparisons with The Hunger Games abound of course – a female heroine-centred young adult trilogy set in a dystopian future, involving sci-fi and romance. I LOVE IT! Actually the world of Divergent starts off seeming like a walk in the park compared to The Hunger Games’ Panem – they get to CHOOSE their faction – how sweet and dandy is that? Compared to having to enter your name yearly into a pool to potentially have to fight other teenagers to the death. But never fear, Divergent does get more deadly as time goes on.
It is exciting to see more and more female-centred teen action films being released to a wide audience, although where The Hunger Games massively trumps Divergent is in its protagonist holding her own. Tris is strong and independent in many ways, but she still needs a male saviour in multiple instances which was disappointing. I’ve heard this continues throughout the trilogy. Luckily, said male is DAMN FINE. Theo James is well cast as love interest, Four. I look forward to seeing much, much more of him, and by that I mean I hope we get to see his abs in the next instalment. But back to the true star of the film, Shailene Woodley. She hasn’t quite yet demonstrated the range of Jennifer Lawrence (to make the obvious comparison) but she plays a different role here and she does it aptly. Plus she seems cool in interviews (and she doesn’t wear make up on the red carpet) so she wins further points for that. Kate Winslet plays the villainous ruler of Erudite, Jeanine, and she plays the evil bitch well – I think they accentuated the moles on her face on purpose. There isn’t much more to say about the mostly unknown cast of Divergent other than that they are decent, but mostly forgettable.
There is plenty of action in Divergent, with many exciting sequences to fill the 2 hour 20 minute running time. Being the first in a trilogy, you never quite know (without having read the book first) when it will end, but I was pleased that it went on a bit longer than I had anticipated. I’m not quite sure what the next two books/films will be about but I await the films eagerly, and I may just read the series, without holding out much hope for feminism to prevail, however.