The latest in the genre of sci-fi films that explore the world of a dystopian, post-apocalyptic United States is Divergent. Often compared to The Hunger Games, they both were books first, and featured female protagonists written by female authors. In addition, both book series explore the ideas of factions and disrupted unions for the sake of the powerful few.
Unlike The Hunger Games, the injustice in the world of Divergent is not apparent from the beginning of the film. In fact, it seems as if futuristic Chicago has found the perfect balance between keeping people happy and managing the city. Society is divided into factions based on the people’s ability which is determined by a chemical test to discover their aptitude. The factions are Abnegation, who manage the city and care for others; Erudites who are responsible for the scientific advancement of the city; Dauntless who protect the city; Candor who are sort of the legal system; and Amity who represent the peaceful peasants.
At 16 years of age, citizens get to decide their final place in the community in a ceremonial conference. They are free to either choose the faction decided by the test or another faction of their choice. However, if they leave their chosen faction, they become homeless and largely uncared for. The main law of the city is summed up in “faction before blood”.
The focus is on Beatrice Prior, a 16-year old born in the Abnegation faction and the daughter of the governor of the city. From the beginning of the film, we realize Beatrice’s reluctance to commit herself to her family’s faction and she seems to be drawn instead to the Dauntless faction. The test leaves her even more confused when she realizes that she is a divergent, a term used for those who belong to more than one faction.
Suddenly, her life becomes more complicated and she slowly discovers what it means to be different from everyone else. For the sake of not spoiling the film, I will refrain from describing anymore details or events. Her choice enables her to make friends (and a love interest) and enemies and we also see Beatrice, who changes her name to Tris to suit her new life, develop into a confident young woman. She is, surprise surprise, the leader of the different and the rebellious; something that happens while she is struggling to make sense of it all.
The film is quite fast-paced, a good decision made by director Neil Burger, who also directed The Illusionist in 2006. The film also focuses on the right bits of the story and avoids lingering unnecessarily long on incidents or details. Moreover, the casting is quite successful. Tris or Beatrice is played by Shailene Woodley who acted in George Clooney’s The Descendants, and her love interest in the film known as Four is played by British actor Theo James who previously appeared in one of the Underworld movies. The film also boasts a great supporting cast who take on the role of the set-in-their-ways adults.
Kate Winslet plays Jeanine, the head of the Erudites while Ashley Judd takes on the role of Tris’s mother, a character who has an interesting background story of her own. The good thing about film is the presence of strong female characters, something that can also be said about The Hunger Games where male characters play a secondary role in the unfolding of the story. Moreover, the futuristic world is mostly controlled by female characters, continuing the feminist streak of The Hunger Games, where women took on the roles of army generals and presidents.
However, unlike The Hunger Games, Divergent suffers from linear characters, a simplistic storyline and an undeveloped future. The story is entertaining enough, but it lacks substance as we see characters hurtle themselves from one transformation in to another without really giving us reason or justification for their choices. The concept of the different leading the unfortunate is also a repeated theme, along with the unlikely underdog emerging as the victor with the help of reluctant friends.
The simplistic theme carries on in how each faction is portrayed. The linear nature of each faction makes it seem almost childish. Yet, this might have been done on purpose so as to show the mistaken concept of a divisional society, with the protagonist and her friends leading us to a more wholesome and united view.
The repetitive nature of the film and its’ use of clichés lend it a very predictable plot. Before the protagonist or any of the characters make any move, one immediately knows the outcome. All through the film, I was pointing out in my head how this would unfold or that would happen. Even though the story aimed for an air of uncertainty and the film’s good direction allow you to invest yourself in the story, you still know that the protagonist will conquer this or that challenge.
The murdering of supportive cast, but not the lead, makes it an all the more eye-rolling sci-fi film. We are supposed to believe that this 16-year old girl can go through an emotional rollercoaster and then instantly recover just like a well-trained CIA operative.
That being said, the film is a good choice if you are looking for something to distract you for two hours and 40 minutes, especially if you are in the company of younger humans. Adolescents will cheer at the exciting world of Divergent, with people jumping off trains, running with strangers like a pack of wolves and generally being risky and intrepid. Viewers who are more romantically inclined might be thrilled with the prospects of a budding love story between Tris and Four, who sometimes even appears shirtless (yay for the objectification of men instead of women).
Fans hold their breaths as they wait for the following film in the sci-fi trilogy.
The trilogy (Divergent, Insurgent and Allegiant) was written by 25 year-old author Veronica Roth, who sold the first book sold before she graduated from Northwestern University. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing.