Choose your own path
The results of Divergent’s test are unclear. For one, it doesn’t fit perfectly in The Hunger Games faction, as the book’s events are not adapted to the screen with the careful style of this reigning Young Adult franchise. Fortunately for us, it is also mismatched with the Twilight faction, as the acting of stars Shailene Woodley and Theo James gives the film an actual pulse. So where does that leave Divergent? Much like Woodley’s character Tris, it can’t be grouped into one solid category. It’s somewhere in the realm of decent dystopia, not quite destined to achieve young adult greatness (yet), but so far away from the young adult flops it’s being unfairly grouped with. Divergent is worth a watch.
This only applies to the quality of the movie, however, as the plot is a Frankenstein of franchises past and present. In some weird version of future Chicago, everyone is sorted into one of five Hogwarts Houses: Abnegation (selfless), Amity (peace), Candor (honest), Erudite (intelligent), Dauntless (brave), and Gryffindor (brave also). Citizens take a test when they turn 16 to determine what faction best suits them; most remain in their birth faction with their families, but some of the city’s most daring switch factions, leaving their families behind.
Beatrice (Woodley) and her older brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) live in Abnegation and somehow turn 16 and take the test the same year. Beatrice’s faction test involves a hallucination where she has to protect a little girl from a vicious dog, which apparently tells her she belongs in three different factions: Abnegation (which she’s just like so bored of), Erudite and Dauntless. Being divergent, she must hide her results from whatever the authority in this version is called, because the divergent pose a threat to the society for unknown reasons.
The movie begins with a slow pace verging on off-putting. Director Neil Burger doesn’t try to differentiate the movie from anything else; it’s a lazy, thin vision of the book taken directly from the pages and slopped onto the screen. The sets appear unconvincing. The music, while fitting, is generic enough to fit in any action movie. Those wary of yet another crappy young adult franchise have reason to be afraid.
But then, abruptly, the movie finds its place in society. Beatrice transfers to Dauntless, the warriors of the city, where she must compete in many trials against the other Dauntless initiates to earn a job in the faction (the failures are thrown to factionless territory). Beatrice embraces the change, changing her name to ‘Tris,’ getting tattoos, climbing Ferris wheels, and developing an interest in her instructor, Four (James).
As Tris finds her place in this brand new society, so does the film. The movie quickly becomes a slick exploration of Tris’ newfound adventurousness, stringed together by back-to-back-to-back satisfying action scenes. The book’s strongest point is the psychoanalysis of its characters, especially Tris. This internal monologue cannot be translated well to the medium of film, but thankfully Woodley gives a performance strong enough that we still feel like we know the intimate details of Tris’ life. Strong but vulnerable, Woodley gives the film a sense that the risks her character is taking actually have high stakes and potentially bad consequences. She (along with strong costar James, with whom she shares great chemistry) keeps what could have been a boring 139 minutes electric and thrumming.
There’s an exhilarating and beautiful scene halfway into the movie where Tris soars over the broken city and through ramshackle skyscrapers while dangling from a zip line. By this part of the movie, it was clear to me that the movie was so much better than the other Young Adult franchises it was being automatically categorized with. Divergent wants to be brave, and selfless, and intelligent, and honest, and kind. Okay, maybe it’s not all of those things, but I wouldn’t rule that out for future sequels.