Divergent, directed by Neil Burger, is an adaptation of the 2011 novel written by Veronica Roth while she was still an undergraduate. The film is set in a post-war, dystopian Chicago and shows a society divided into five factions based on virtue in order to avoid conflict. There is Amity, the kind-hearted, Erudite, the intelligent, Candor, the honest and hardworking, Abnegation, the selfless and pious and Dauntless, the courageous.
At the age of 16, every child in town is required to take an aptitude test comprising certain designed hallucinations which help in seeking out the factions they are compliant with. Anyone who falls into more than one faction, like the film’s lead character Tris (Shailene Woodley) is labelled as divergent. The test is followed by a ‘choosing ceremony’ in which the teens use their results to pick the faction they want to join for the rest of their lives.
Tris soon finds out that she has an aptitude for three out of the five factions. Not only is this result rare but also extremely dangerous. Nonetheless, Tris, in an effort to remain true to herself chooses Dauntless, which means she can never see her family again. What follows is a series of tests and challenges and a constant tug-of-war in a bid to make the right choice.
If Woodley is the protagonist in this film, Kate Winslet is the malefactor. She plays the Erudite leader, Jeanine Matthews, who will stop at no lengths to maintain social order. To see Winslet play a negative role as the icy queen is refreshing and a welcome break from her usual choice of emotionally perturbed characters. Theo James plays the indomitable instructor Four who is assigned to the transfer initiates and trains them to get through initiation. Tris soon forms a special bond with Four and together they try to find out how dangerous it is to be divergent, before it’s too late.
Other recognisable names which make up the cast include Maggie Q, Tony Goldwyn, Ashley Judd, Miles Teller and Zoë Kravitz. The movie also launches newcomers Ben-Lloyd Hughes and Ansel Elgort, who will be seen romancing Woodley in The Fault in Our Stars later this year.
Director Neil Burger and screenwriters Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor have successfully managed to include key moments and images from the novel while tweaking others to showcase the mythology and progression of the story. This tactic might work for those who have not read the trilogy but will disappoint fans who have religiously followed the books. First-time viewers might also find the plot unimaginative and similar to The Hunger Games trilogy. While both plots share a similar message of breaking the shackles of conformity, they are set in two different futuristic societies and have different obstacles that the protagonist is required to overcome. But while a fluid script, flawless execution and stellar performances turned The Hunger Games into a classic, it is the weaknesses on all those fronts that push Divergent into mediocrity.
Riza Qureshi is a student and a fan fiction enthusiast who loves watching their movie adaptations
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, May 4th, 2014.