In a world where the abundance of films based on books is vast, those that fall into a particular category are growing rapidly. Novels that focus on a heroine with a “me against the world” attitude, forbidden love, and a life with semi-futuristic elements involved are hitting the big screen in droves. This window was more or less opened with Stephanie Meyers’ Twilight and has been followed by another of Meyers’ novels, The Host, as well as other science-fiction/epic/drama/romance/fantasies like Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy and most recently, Divergent by Veronica Roth.
It’s no surprise that none of these films tickle my fancy and despite many enjoying the Hunger Games, I fell asleep in the first 15 minutes (cue an angry crowd of boo’s). However, out of all of them, Divergent is the only one I was able to sit through attentively entertained, regardless of some shortcomings, sometimes predictably simple formula, and the fact that our photo editor Meghan Zimbler coaxed me into joining her.
Divergent takes place in a semi-futuristic world in which the inhabitants are divided into five factions to ensure order. Erudite is for the smartest, logical thinkers who dress in blue. Amity is where the kind and peaceful grow crops and provide for the other factions, usually dressing in yellow and orange. Candor holds honesty most valuable and dress in black and white. Dauntless is home to the fearlessly brave protectors of all the factions who are notorious for their crazy antics and sport black, and finally Abnegation, where the protagonist Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley) begins her journey, as one of those who are selfless, uninterested in acquiring power and provide for the factionless. They are garbed in light grey and are often referred to as “stiffs” by the other factions, placing a lot of confusion on Beatrice as to where she truly belongs.
At the age of 16, the youth and their families attend a ceremony with the purpose of allowing them to choose whether they want to stay in their current faction or leave forever and join a new one. To help them in their decision, they all partake in an aptitude test designed to assist in proper placement based on the results. After her test, Beatrice is rushed out of the room by her test-aid, Tori, and is told that the results are inconclusive. More confused than ever with difficult decisions behind every door, Beatrice must face what we all do in life: uncertainty of the future and the unknown. Which faction should she choose? Does she choose the right one? Does she only belong in a single faction? Who is the Dauntless leader Four, and how could he be linked to Beatrice’s future? Not even Beatrice knows, but the journey to the answers is a pretty exciting one.
Alright, so going to back to what I started off with. This film is not realistically treading new ground, and I went in thinking it was going to be drama-heavy, but it was not. The flow and organization of the story was smooth, and it did a good job with giving quick background information (probably for those like me that didn’t read the book) without drowning me in specifics right off the bat. The story stays focused on Beatrice, but it also cleverly gives glimpses of life in the factions that aren’t dealt with in depth. The electric-driven soundtrack was something that popped in the first mere minutes and stays strong, supplementing key moments, characters and the factions based on the mood or characteristics, which was an awesome touch.
Obviously, I mentioned the seemingly uninspired formula, but since the film as a whole was entertaining, it’s something that can be forgiven or even take with a grain of salt. There were definitely moments where I could lean over to Meghan and tell her what they were setting up to happen, but there were definitely just as many when they referenced something/someone briefly and unexpectedly came back to it, which had me wide-eyed during a few instances.
Looking at the cast beforehand, I was less than thrilled, yet seeing them on screen was much different because they were accurately cast for their strengths. Woodley pulls off the role of the heroine addict rather convincingly with more internal than external strength matched with beauty. I enjoyed seeing Miles Teller, who plays an obnoxious rival to Beatrice, get beat down on a few occasions and was surprised with how Four, a mysterious Dauntless leader played by Theo James, was portrayed in a “poor man’s James Franco” type way. Other than the youth, smaller roles played by Ray Stevenson (Dexter), Mekhi Phifer (8 Mile) and Kate Winslett (Titanic) were weighed just enough to have a worthy effect on the story so that they didn’t seem out of place.
Right before departing for the theater, I remember wondering if the movie was going to end up being two-and-a-half hours I’d never get back. An open mind and a story that aimed to entertain as well as teach virtues of life and growing pains that come with getting older, coupled with the theme of facing your fears allowed me to enjoy a film I thought I couldn’t.
As the pool of films based on movies grows ever deeper, it becomes increasingly difficult to fish out worthy choices, especially when the waters of the female hero become diluted with sunken sagas like Twilight. Casual audience members and fans of the book alike can enjoy Divergent in a much different like than its predecessors, as it floats above the wreckage.