Hollywood is so laughably predictable. A film based on a YA triology about a brave heroine in a dystopian universe does well at the box office and they don’t think to themselves, “Wow. People really DO want to see a variety of diverse stories featuring young heroines!” Instead they think, “Wow. Young people want to see stories based on YA trilogies about brave heroines in a dystopian universe.”
And so we have Divergent, aka, The Hunger Games but with less fun wigs.
In this film’s version of the future, Chicago is the only city to have survived the apocalypse. (Totally believable. If they can survive their own winters, a little nuclear winter should be a snap.)
The whole population has been divided into factions—and it’s a bit like high school. There’s Erudite (the brains), Candor (the school narcs), Dauntless (the jocks), Amity (the hippie tree-huggers), and Abnegation (the student government). Basically, it’s The Breakfast Club goes dystopian. Our heroine, Tris (Shailene Woodley) is a member of Abnegation and, as well as being the governing faction, they’re known for their lack of vanity and selflessness.
Anyway, when a child turns 16 in this universe, they attend the Reaping—er, Choosing Day ceremony—where they get to pick which faction they want to belong to. First, there’s a test to determine your natural place. You can choose against your biology but it’s not recommended.
When Tris takes her test, the tester (Maggie Q) freaks out and tells her to sneak out the back and run for her life, rarely a good sign.
Turns out she’s a “divergent”—or what we might’ve called a “floater” back in high school—she doesn’t fit into any one group. This makes her a threat to the ruling overlords, headed by Kate Winslet, in important hair.
So Tris has to hide her true identity, kind of pesky in a world where they have the technology to see inside your head.
Instead of taking the safe route and sticking with Abnegation, she joins the cool kids of Dauntless. Her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort, who will play Woodley’s lover in the The Fault in Our Stars—awkward!) joins Erudite. Something tells me this ends up being a bigger deal in future books, as Erudite is conspiring with Winslet’s Jeanine to take over the government.
In Dauntless, Tris meets Four (Theo James), the studly, but unapproachable trainer of the new recruits, who begins to take a keen interest in her. But why?
A lot of Divergent plays like a sci-fi basic training film, with Tris having to overcome a series of tests of endurance and bravery. But one of the cool elements of the plot: She needs to try to think like a Dauntless—i.e., using tools and strength—not like a “Divergent”—who might use a combination of all traits, plus an almost extrasensory intuition. I dig it.
That being said, there are a few problems: The film is almost two and a half hours long, and seems poorly paced. The beginning has a leisurely tempo—the final third, which contains much of the pivotal action, feels rushed. Also, the film doesn’t have the wit or eye popping flair of The Hunger Games.
As for Woodley? It’s unfair to compare her to the talent-and-charm bomb that is Jennifer Lawrence, but she’s darn good. She has an alertness about her, an intelligence in her eyes—she draws you in. And Theo James—previously famed for taking Lady Mary’s virginity (and inconveniently dropping dead) on Downton Abbey—proves to be an appropriately studly and appealing male lead.
I’m looking forward to the next installment. Will the districts finally overtake the capitol and will Katniss prevail? Sorry. I swear I’ll get this straight eventually.