Divergent (2014)

What Makes You Different, Makes You Dangerous.

After a lengthy rough patch for young adult film adaptations — with several box office disappointments due to either a lack of interest or too narrow of an audience — it looks as though Divergent, based on the novels by Victoria Roth, may well be the series famished tweens have been anticipating. Gripping and inspired, Divergent appeals to newcomers and long-time fans of the saga alike, thanks to some engaging performances and an able director. Yes, it’s essentially similar to The Hunger Games (2012), but Divergent tackles more identifiable issues of belonging and making a choice that may fundamentally render one’s future, a genuine concern among many young adults today — particularly those who have finished high school and are moving on to the next phase of their life.

Set in a future dystopian Chicago, Divergent tells the story of teenagers struggling to find their place in the world. In an effort to maintain a functioning community, the post-war society that remains has been separated by different factions based on the predominant personality traits and virtues of its citizens — Abnegation (the selfless), Amity (the peaceful), Candor (the honest), Dauntless (the brave) and Erudite (the intelligent) — in an attempt to keep the peace and encourage the population to participate equally in rebuilding their world. While the populace are born into factions, on a pre-determined day each year, all sixteen-year-old citizens must take an aptitude test to establish which faction is best fit for their personality, although, no matter the result, one is — in the end — free to ultimately choose whatever faction they wish to become a member of. However, if the citizen chooses to change factions, they must leave their friends and family behind and fully commit to their new role in society.

Rocky Balboa, eat your heart out!
Rocky Balboa, eat your heart out!

On testing day, strong-willed sixteen-year-old, Beatrice ‘Tris’ Prior (Shailene Woodley), shows equal aptitude for several separate factions, making her Divergent — Divergence is the tendency to diverge from the normal — she does not fit into any category and therefore can not be controlled, labeling her a threat to the system. Confused by her results, Tris is advised to keep her findings a secret by an older faction member, Tori (Maggie Q). Nevertheless, Tris freely decides to leave her home of Abnegation to transfer to Dauntless, a fiery group of individuals who protect others while showing no fear. There, Tris must learn to fit in by testing her limits, physically and mentally, all the while, guarding her dark secret.

First and foremost, credit goes out to the capable Divergent cast, who literally help the picture jump from page to screen. Newcomer Shailene Woodley, The Spectacular Now (2013), carries the weight of the picture on her shoulders and brings forth a convincing portrayal of a heroine striving to survive in a world where chaos and tragedy engulf our characters. Woodley’s graceful transformation from withdrawn teen to dominant young lady is expertly depicted and speaks to her ability as an actress. Let’s not forget her sizzling chemistry with co-star Theo James, Underworld: Awakening (2012) — who almost effortlessly pulls off the bad boy act in a manner rarely seen in cinema today — further driving the narrative forward while remaining authentic.

Why so serious?
Why so serious?

Ansel Elgort — who plays Woodley’s boyfriend in this year’s The Fault in Our Stars (2014) — is convincing as Tris’ brother, whereas Miles Teller — who starred alongside Woodley in The Spectacular Now (2013) — feels slightly miscast as the harassing bully, Peter. Acting veterans Kate Winslet, Titanic (1997) — who was five months pregnant during filming — Ashley Judd, Double Jeopardy (1999), and Ray Stevenson, Thor: The Dark World (2013), are convincing in their well-balanced respective roles adding integrity to the picture, while tough Nikita (2010) star Maggie Q is rather gentle as kind-hearted test administrator Tori.

Director Neil Burger, Limitless (2011), anchors the picture with a well-realized depiction of a disposition city whilst exploring moral and societal problems in this surprisingly deep young adult film. While not familiar with the novels myself, I was pleased to discover that Divergent does not alienate newcomers, instead provides a fine explanation of its world and the characters who inhabit it whilst satisfying pre-existing fans of the series. Although some of the effects aren’t on par with many of today’s larger scale science-fiction pictures, this doesn’t detract from one’s enjoyment of Divergent, as the narrative isn’t reliant on special effects, rather characters and themes, however pacing and editing feel spot on. The soundtrack by Tom Holkenborg, better known as Junkie XL, 300: Rise of an Empire (2014), and vocalist Ellie Goulding is both terrific and relevant to the surveillance society presented in the picture, further enhancing the overall premise.

Looks as though someone's found a new use for transparency paper.
Looks as though someone’s found a new use for transparency paper.

Divergent is ultimately a story about integrity — at some point we must all decide whether to stick with the way we were raised or listen to our internal compass and follow our instincts — the themes explored are incredibly significant to young adults and it’s no surprise the series has taken off. To be honest, I enjoyed Divergent more than I care to admit, and while the picture falls flat from time to time, it succeeds on most accounts, thanks to the tremendous dynamic between its leads, a surprising visual style and a solid execution. Let’s just say that I, for one, am secretly anticipating the follow up, Insurgent.

3.5 / 5 – Great

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

Divergent is released through eOne Films Australia