Why is it that films set in the future always deal with people running around trying to kill each other? That must be a pre-requisite for dystopian movies, and I suppose it’s somewhat justified, but they certainly aren’t happy films. “The Hunger Games” movies have set the bar very high for the genre, and the most recent film to deal with life in the future after a war has ravaged everything is “Divergent.” Although it’s not equal to “The Hunger Games” series, it still is entertaining enough that people who like movies of this ilk probably will enjoy it.
Based upon Veronica North’s 2011 novel of the same name, “Divergent” is set in Chicago at an undisclosed future time after a catastrophic war. The shells of buildings are still standing in the city, but they have sustained massive damage. An enormous wall surrounding the city ostensibly protects it and its denizens from whatever danger may arise, and the people have been divided into five factions for a more efficient society.
These factions comprise Abnegation (selfless), Amity (peaceful), Candor (truthful), Erudite (intelligence), and Dauntless (brave). When young citizens reach a certain age, they must take test to determine in which faction their personalities place them. After the test, they still have the right to choose their own faction, but if the test reveals they may be suited for more than one category, they are classified as divergent and considered very dangerous.
The heroine of our story is Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley), the daughter of Natalie (Ashley Judd) and Andrew Prior (Tony Goldwin), both of whom are leaders in Abnegation. Beatrice approaches her test with trepidation because she doesn’t really want to leave her family, but she receives real shock when her test administrator tells her she is divergent and to guard this secret for fear of her life. Based upon her test results, Beatrice can fit in with Erudite, Abnegation, and Dauntless, and when the choosing day arrives, she decides to become a member of Dauntless.
As soon as she makes her choice, Beatrice (She shortens her name to Tris when she joins Dauntless.) must begin an incredibly rigorous training program during which she meets Dauntless faction members Four (Theo James) and Christina (Zoe Kravitz). While Tris is struggling with the initiation rites for Dauntless, the members of Erudite are staging a revolution to oust Abnegation as the top faction. The leader of the Erudite movement is Jeanine Matthews (played to the hilt by Oscar-winner Kate Winslet), who sets her sights on Tris.
From this point on the film evolves into the story of Tris’s struggle to keep her true identity as a Divergent a secret while she also attempts to complete her training for Dauntless. Along the way she participates in a bizarre game of capture the flag, engages in various hand-to-hand combat battles, and endures some hallucinatory-inducing drug injections.
“Divergent” boasts plenty of action and some terrifically choreographed fight scenes in addition to providing a most disturbing look at a futuristic society. The special effects during Tris’s hallucinations also are quite effective, and the chemistry between Woodley and James is outstanding. This last is very important because the developing relationship between Tris and Four is vital to the story. In the film’s production notes, Woodley shared her thoughts about Tris and Four.
“I love the Tris and Four dynamic because it’s so different than most young adult romances on screen. It’s very realistic. I love that it’s not necessarily a love at first sight dynamic. There’s obviously mutual attraction but respect, compassion, and trust. Those things are completely separate from attraction. Throughout the film, Tris is trying to figure him out, because in one scene he’ll be vulnerable with her, and complimentary towards her, but then in the next scene, he’s harsh, very strict, and very truthful to the point it induces pain in Tris. The challenge of him is very intriguing to her.
“When Tris and Four finally do share a very vulnerable experience together when Tris goes into Four’s fear landscape, she learns that he comes from a very broken place. Four is complex. Their budding relationship ultimately stems from them both realizing that they have pure hearts. These aren’t two lovebirds running around with weapons saving the world. These are two partners who came together, from very similar lifestyles but very different stories, and found mutual recognition and strength in each other.”
Because “Divergent” is Tris’s story, Woodley’s portrayal of her is the main key to making the film work, and she really proves she can carry a film. She appears in almost every frame of the movie, and she succeeds beautifully in creating a character about whom we really care. Throughout the movie Tris morphs from a somewhat diffident girl filled with doubts about her future into a strong, self-confident young woman prepared to take on anyone or anything. And Woodley conveys her character’s transformation superbly.
Another extremely important character in the film is Four, who befriends Tris and ultimately becomes her love interest. In the production notes, James explained what he liked about his character.
“I love that Four is a person who thinks before he speaks. He’s a watchful person, and he’s listening all the time, but he doesn’t feel like he needs to speak necessarily or make a point of throwing his weight around. He’s also very efficient and strong, but he’s not someone who would show off. Secondly, I connected to Four because he felt like an older style of movie character; he had that element of a Steve McQueen or a Paul Newman, and they don’t need to push anything. They’re just themselves with their own sense of masculinity.”
North intended her novel for young adults, and it only follows that the film will appeal to a similar audience. Those who enjoyed “The Hunger Games” films should also enjoy “Divergent,” although I think the former films have a little more substance than this one. Nevertheless, this movie offers plenty of action, some harrowing hallucination sequences, a memorable climb to the top of a huge Ferris wheel, and nice splash of romance. And it earns the final score of a respectable seven because it is sufficiently entertaining and just a bit divergent from other run-of-the-mill futuristic films.