Movie Review: Divergent
It’s hard not to make a parallel between “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent” (first look at 2013 Comic-Con). Both ride on the popularity of YA sci-fi novels. Both star solid lead actresses, Jennifer Lawrence (“Silver Linings Playbook“) and Shailene Woodley (“The Descendants“), respectively. When “The Hunger Games” premiered two years ago, it kicked off a phenomenal franchise. And unlike the critically-lambasted “Twilight” series, “The Hunger Games” is a critics-darling and crowd-favorite. “Divergent” attempts to achieve such feat.
“The future belongs to those who know where to belong.” Based on Veronica Roth’s best-selling novel and directed by Neil Berger (who directed the spellbinding “Limitless,” and “The Illusionist”), the story is set in a dystopian, post-apocalyptic world. The rest of the world has been destroyed by wars and the remaining society lives in factions inside a protective fence.
Society is divided into five factions based on human virtues, Abgenation (caring), Amity (peaceful), Candor (honesty), Dauntless (bravery), Erudite (intelligence). Abgenation are selfless, dedicated public servants and trusted to run the government. Amity farm the land, they are peaceful and happy. Candor tell the truth no matter what and maintain order. Dauntless protects and keeps everyone safe. Erudite are high in intelligence and know everything. Each faction serves a purpose and keeps the society in peace. Those who do not belong to any faction are vagabonds, divergents. Because they do not conform, they can’t be controlled and therefore are deemed dangerous.
Every teen goes through an aptitude test to determine what faction he or she belongs to. Woodley is Beatrice, daughter of Natalie (Ashley Judd) and council member Andrew Prior (Tony Goldwyn, “The Mechanic“), part of the Abgenation faction. Along with Caleb (Ansel Elgort), the time has come for them to undergo a hallucinatory test. People typically reveal who they really are under the influence, what their strongest virtue is, based on how they respond to harrowing scenarios. Beatrice, however, shows that she has multiple values, Abgenation, Dauntless and Erudite. Her tester, Tori, (Maggie Q, “Nikita”) warns her that she must keep her test result a secret lest she could be eliminated.
While it’s generally wise to choose a faction that follows the test result, people are free to choose a faction that they feel represent themselves the most. However, once they choose, that would be it for the rest of their lives. If it’s a faction different than the one they were born and raised in, they must leave their families and everything behind. It’s faction over blood; they could never go back. During the anxiety-inducing Ceremony of Choosing, Beatrice and Caleb do just that. To the surprise of their parents, Caleb defects to Erudite and Beatrice Dauntless.
In an instant, Beatrice’s new life begins. She is Tris, a fresh Dauntless. Or so she thought. As it turns out, those who choose the warrior faction actually have to prove that they are worthy of being Dauntless. From leaping into and jumping off a moving train, plunging into a pit, sparring, shooting and knife-throwing, they are trained and tested physically and mentally to be combat-ready by a first-class instructor, Four (Theo James). If they don’t pass, they would be stripped of their new identity and rendered factionless forever.
At first it looks unbelievable that the timid Tris could transform into a fighter. But somehow it happens. You could almost feel Tris’ heartbeat as she contemplates, puts one foot forward and another, and takes another step, falls and rises, gaining strength and skills in the process. She also makes friends with other newbies, Christina (Zoe Kravitz) and Will (Ben Llyod-Hughes), who defect from their original factions. Her life is made more challenging by a Dauntless leader, Eric (Jai Courtney, “A Good Day to Die Hard.”) Simply put, he’s a piece of work. Although the rivalry between him and Four provides some humor in the grim story.
Four and Tris’ relationship slowly develops into romance. Four actually has a painful secret of his own. Through fear simulations, they discover and understand each other. In order to pass the last stage of the tests, Tris must control her subconscious and show how a Dauntless would act to resolve situations she fears the most. After passing the test, her official initiation as a Dauntless, zip lining through deteriorated skyscrapers at nighttime, is thrilling.
Word comes around that the Erudites, led by an icy villain, Jeanine (Kate Winslet) is going to overthrow the government and abolish Abgenation, whom they view as weak and corrupted. They’re also actively searching for and killing divergents. The last stretch of the movie is a war among factions, although one faction is forced to fight a war they do not wish to fight. Tris and Four race against time to find the perpetrator and stop the massacre, knowing that at the end, they will be homeless and hunted.
Extensive amounts of time spent in the Dauntless pit could have been cut and more should have been spent in each faction, letting the audience see more more about the characters, the way they live and connections among factions, and thus become more invested in them. The emotional impact is always far greater when you know more about the characters and their lives. Part of what makes the horror in “The Hunger Games” so real is because we’re allowed to know more about the characters, instead of nameless or faceless lineups, and how the actions of the main protagonists directly affect others around them.
Woodley makes things believable, however, and she and James sell their understated relationship. The movie has distinctive costumes and interesting set pieces, with an electrifying score as a standout. Although not as intense as “The Hunger Games, “ the premise is intriguing and the story engaging. By the end of the movie, you’ll be invested enough in Tris and Four, and what will become of them and the society’s future.
More than a diversion, “Divergent” is sufficient to carry another surefire franchise. The second installment, “Insurgent” is slated for release next year.
Copyright (c) 2014. Nathalia Aryani.