It’s already apparent that this weekend will see a box-office rush to Divergent similar to and for the same general reasons as the one for Hunger Games. This is definitely a movie for young adults and plenty of not-so-young adults who will identify with ‘Tris and Four, two of the main characters played by Shailene Woodley and Theo James, respectively.
Based on the novel by Veronica Roth (and almost certain of spawning two more films since it’s the first of a trilogy) Divergent takes place in Chicago of the future, a city/society/nation to itself, walled off from the world after a major war. In this case society has evolved into a system in which people belong to one of five categories according to their personality profiles (or something along those lines).
As teenagers, children are given a test to determine where they belong if the category they were born in isn’t their true nature. ‘Amity’ translates to hippies, ‘Candor’ is the lawyers and judges (because they’re born honest), ‘Dauntless’ are risk-takers, therefore soldiers, and ‘Abnegation’ are the care-takers-by-nature, entrusted by the others to govern selflessly. Erudite are the brainy ones, theoretically discovering ways to improve society but in Divergent aiming to take control of the works.
So that’s the scenario when Beatrice (‘Tris) discovers she has a Divergent personality, some of Dauntless, some of Erudite and some of Abnegation. On Choosing Day she chooses Dauntless – and then discovers that part of her mission in society is killing off Divergents since they pose a threat to Erudites. That doesn’t sit well with her, ultimately resulting in the fast-paced, action-packed and quite thrilling progression of the film.
Kate Winslet is impressive as Jeanine, an evil Erudite who means to wipe out Abnegation with an assist from drug-manipulated Dauntless types. Theo James is a very convincing Four, trainer and leader of a Dauntless cadre opposed to Jeanine’s machinations. Teens especially are going to find attractive role models in the courageous and capable female lead; Woodley is undeniably the star in this action/drama, but she has excellent back-up in the rest of the cast.
There’s enough of a love interest (‘Tris and Four) to generate interest but not enough to undermine the action, which moves right along for all 135 minutes of the movie. Directed by Neil Burger and tightened up very nicely by screenwriters Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor, Divergent may be one of the few films that’s better than the book.
Most audiences are inevitably going to compare the film with Hunger Games and critics have offered different opinions on whether Divergent compares favourably. It’s probably fair to say that any fan of the earlier films will find a lot to love in this similar but sufficiently different approach to the moral and societal issues, not to mention teen angst, of life in the conceivable future.
Divergent opened in theatres worldwide on 21 March, rated PG-13 for violence and some sensual aspects – perfect fare for teens and effectively whetting the appetite for more. Parts 11 and 111 of the Veronica Roth trilogy, Insurgent and Allegiant will surely be forthcoming; few critics anticipate anything but rousing success if they hold to the standards set by Part 1.