Not of the target age of the book series that this film was based upon I really did not know that much about it. I knew it was dystopian tale featuring a world that has got itself into a real mess. With all the angst and heightened emotion going on it seems like a perfect fit for a teen film. So another Hunger Games? Do we really need another is my question. The short answer is yes. Watch and you’ll figure out why.
Teenagers on Earth get to an age where they have to select one of the five Factions. Once they select they have to remain with Dauntless (bravery), Euridite (intelligence), Candor (honesty), Amity (peaceful) or Abnegation (selfless) for the rest of their life. It is time for Beatrice (Shailene Woodley – The Descendants, The Spectacular Now) and her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort – Carrie – 2013, The Fault in Our Stars) to make their choices. Her family, including their parents, Andrew (Tony Goldwyn – from television’s Scandal) and Natalie (Ashley Judd – Heat, Double Jeopardy), are Abnegation and most select the Faction they have been born into.
When Beatrice goes to her pre choice test something weird happens in that her result is inconclusive. The Dauntless girl Tori (Maggie Q – from television’s Nikita) who administers the test to her ushers her out quickly telling her not to tell anyone what happened. Beatrice is confused and uncertain about her future. Shockingly both Caleb and Beatrice do not select Abnegation. Caleb selects Euridite and Beatrice picks Dauntless.
Once an initiate to Dauntless Beatrice becomes Tris and undergoes the physically and psychologically gruelling initiation. It is not assured that Tris will make the cut and be Dauntless. If she doesn’t she cannot go home and as such will be Factionless – an outcast. While the physical/fighting aspect of the initiation proves very difficult for Tris the mental part is simple. Her trainer Four (Theo James – Underworld: Awakening, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger) notices this and has questions.
Before long Tris finds out that she is Divergent – a person who defies being part of a Faction. This type of person puts in jeopardy the existence of the five Factions supported by Jeanine (Kate Winslet – The Reader, Titanic) – the leader of the Erudites. Tris’s life is in danger if she is found out. The young woman has to make the cut with Dauntless while hiding her true nature.
Back to the inevitable Divergent and Hunger Games comparisons – both feature young woman having to go on dangerous quests to find out who they really are. A young woman being strong is not something we have often seen on the big screen. There have been plenty of films featuring teenage boys being strong like Spider-Man, The Karate Kid or The Life of Pi. It is about time we have some physically able role models for young women. They need to see that female teenage years are not just about makeup, clothes, music, and boys. Young ladies should be encouraged to be able to take care of themselves even if that means physically. In my books they need more Tris and Katnisses to look up to. The comparison is really ridiculous because other than the films featuring a strong young woman they are totally different.
Though it is targeted at a younger audience its tackling of different moral or societal issues is not what you would normally expect from a teen film. The film takes its time developing these issues of categorization of humans and the power of the ruling class. It allows a developing of the ideas and doesn’t just gloss them over.
Casting films like this are tricky. It is hard to find the right young actors. I think that if I was casting a film that required a young actress I would see if Shailene Woodley was available. Starting off on television (The Secret Life of the American Teenager) and then breaking out in Alexander Payne’s The Descendants, a film where she was the strongest aspect. The girl seems to have it all with her talent and looks. She ably captures the strength, backbone, innocence, insecurity, and bravery of Tris. Woodley brings her character from the shy, innocent girl to a strong and courageous hero she becomes. Opposite her is British actor Theo James, who plays the strong silent type well.
Besides the acting the “smaller” facets of the film support it well. Visually it looks great. The setting is a dystopian Chicago and it has a great burnt out look to it with a huge electrified fence surrounding it. The sets and costumes help develop and support the story. As for the music it features plenty of tracks and some work on the score by Brit Ellie Goulding. She provides the perfect voice of Tris in the music.
You don’t have to have read the books to fully appreciate or understand Neil Burger’s (The Illusionist, Limitless) Divergent. It stands well on its own. Though apparently it does not exactly match the book (why do people still believe this is possible?) it remains faithful enough to please fans.