Thrilling, action-packed and visually captivating, “Divergent”, at surface level, seems to be a consummate addition to the burgeoning, big-budget industry of YA dystopian film.
“Divergent” is set in post-apocalyptic Chicago where society is divided into five factions: Abnegation (selflessness), Amity (kindness), Dauntless (bravery), Erudite (intelligence) and Candor (honesty). The film begins on the day of the choosing ceremony, the day that all 16-year-olds take an aptitude test to decide the faction in which they will spend the rest of their lives. The test is supposed to reveal a single faction based on the choices they make during a series of simulations. This is not the case for heroine Beatrice “Tris” Prior (Shailene Woodley), whose test yields three factions as results: Dauntless, Erudite and Abnegation, her home faction. She is “divergent,” meaning that she cannot easily be controlled and is therefore considered a threat to society. This result puts her in serious danger as later on, we find out that the Erudite faction is working to eliminate all Divergent individuals from society.
Tris ultimately chooses to leave behind her family in Abnegation and undergo a physically and emotionally exhausting training to join Dauntless, a faction that touts its belief in “ordinary acts of bravery, the courage that drives one person to stand up for another,” then proceeds to demand conformity, scale tall buildings and jump off high-speed trains.
“Divergent” is the kind of movie that can be enjoyed if you don’t try to ponder the intricacies of its message. In some ways it is formulaic, but where it truly misses the mark, I feel, is in its premise. I wholeheartedly reject the notion that knowledge and intellectual curiosity lead to corruption. In fact, I believe just the opposite. It is through learning and enlightenment that we, as human beings, may acquire the capacity to overcome to problems like malice, corruption and other flaws in our own nature.
With a franchise like this, comparison to others in the same genre is inevitable. Most notable is “The Hunger Games,” a Young Adult trilogy that spawned a series of highly successful films. But the difference between “Divergent” and “The Hunger Games” is that the latter is based on books that have an actual, believable, well thought-out storyline, while the former does not. As I was watching “Divergent,” I couldn’t help but think of how Lionsgate would choose to portray the next two books in the series, which get progressively worse in quality. I am aware that these are YA novels and as such not the most stunning of literary masterpieces, but “Allegiant,” the ultimate installment in the “Divergent” series, was an absolute train wreck. That, however, is a story for another day, and another review.
That said, there were many elements of the “Divergent” film that I did appreciate. The visual effects were outstanding; the portrayal of the city of Chicago was just as I had imagined it and so much more. The actors’ performances were genuine, the film was well-cast and there was certainly no shortage of devastatingly handsome male heartthrobs.
The official “Divergent” trailer: