In the movie Divergent, Chicago is a ruined city inhabited by five different factions of people. Each faction chases after one ideal. Abnegation strives for total selflessness. Erudite seeks knowledge. Candor speaks only the truth. Amity aims for peace, avoiding all conflict. And the Dauntless seek to embody bravery. In their sixteenth year, young adults must choose the faction that they will join, leaving their families behind forever if their choice is different from that of their parents.
Tris, who was raised as one of the Abnegation, never felt she could be completely selfless, and when her time comes she decides to join the Dauntless. The tests she takes to make this decision are supposed to make the choice obvious, but her tests turn up something unusual—she is Divergent. She has characteristics of three different factions, a fact she is supposed to keep secret from everyone.
Tris’s initiation into Dauntless is a violent and disturbing rite of passage that no longer adheres to the original goals of the faction that seeks to instill courage. Instead, it seems to be breeding cruelty. More worrisome, someone is targeting the Divergent as a threat to society.
That’s the basic backdrop of Divergent, in both the bestselling young adult book form and in the movie version. Thousands of teens across North America have been waiting impatiently for this film to hit theaters, and it finally arrived last week with a sleek, futuristic feel, lots of tattoos, a large dose of sexual tension, and some great acting.
Starring as Tris is the fantastic Shailene Woodley, who has demonstrated her acting chops in The Descendants and The Spectacular Now. The lesser-known Theo James takes on the part of Four, Tris’s instructor and love interest. They are both excellent in their respective roles. Ashley Judd is perfect as Tris’s mother. Kate Winslet even turns up as the cold leader of the power-hungry Erudite faction. Sadly these actors are stuck in a movie that is not as good as they are.
Many will recognize elements of The Hunger Games, The Giver, and other popular dystopian novels in Divergent, although Divergent was written before The Hunger Games came into its own. Divergent, while not as well-written as The Hunger Games, has its own set of deeper themes.
The heroes of Divergent chafe under the strictures of being defined by one characteristic. They long to be more fully human, to be more. They must conquer their fears and learn to stay strong. They struggle to figure out where love and compassion fit into the rigid structure of their society, and if they leave their family’s faction, they must cut ties with all they’ve known.
Tris is not a physically powerful person, and she has been taught to be passive in the face of conflict. She loves her parents and their ideals, but she wants to be strong and brave. These books and the movie resonate with the young person who is becoming independent, finding an identity apart from parents and family tradition.
Unfortunately, the movie is unable to develop the characters as fully as the book. Viewers don’t get a feel for Tris’s struggle to adjust to a faction that goes for thrills and self-fulfillment with no thought of others. The movie doesn’t really capture the abrupt change from the physical and sexual modesty of her upbringing, which actually leads to a more complicated and even healthier start to her relationship with Four in the book. The paring down of the story leaves the violence of the society and the sexual tension between the romantic leads amid some daring thrills and chills, which make for more of a standard action flick than a deeply felt coming-of-age story in a dystopian world.
While The Hunger Games movies have thus far held onto the heart and soul of the books they are based on, pushing teens to think about more than the action and the beautiful people on the screen, the movie version of Divergent is less challenging and less interesting than the book from which it arose, leaving the film a bit hollow, like the factions themselves. (Lionsgate)