I was wary about going to see Divergent, I was extremely wary. I haven’t read the books, so I had no idea what the quality of the film would be. I had really low expectations of the film because I had read some pretty bad reviews. However, I was pleasantly surprised. While I don’t think Divergent is worthy of any awards, it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting and had some strong points to it. Although Divergent is based off a book, I felt as though the filmmakers should have taken some more risks by altering the minute plot points, allowing for more excitement.
Divergent takes place in the distant future, after some unnamed war, in the city of Chicago. To keep peace after the war, the remaining citizen of Chicago have been placed into one of five factions, or are Factionless (which is equivalent to being homeless). There are five factions: Abnegation, which consists of those who are selfless; Amity, which consists of those who are peaceful; Candor, which consists of those who are honest; Dauntless, meant for those who are brave; and Erudite, which consists of those who are intelligent. The film follows Beatrice Prior, who calls herself Tris, as she goes through the process of entering her permanent faction.
To assist in deciding which faction to join, teenagers are administered an aptitude test. The administrator of Tris’ test stops her from completing it because the results were inconclusive. This is something rare, as everyone but a few who exhibit traits from all the factions, generally fit into just one faction. Those who exhibit these qualities are called Divergent. Being Divergent is very dangerous in this society, and is not accepted. Therefore, Tris can’t tell anyone of her being Divergent. After the aptitude test, there is Choosing Day, where one can actually decide what faction they want to be in. Tris chooses Dauntless to avoid any issues. The main conflict arises when Jeanine Matthews, leader of the Erudites, wants to eradicate the Divergents and overthrow the Abnegations, who run the government.
The film, which is two hours and twenty minutes, takes a very long time to get into the actual conflict with Matthews and the Erudites (I believe it was about an hour and a half in). The story lagged because of this, and all the action—which wasn’t really that exciting—was shoved into the last hour of the film. For example, Tris experiences the deaths of two loved ones within five minutes in completely different scenes. That’s just ridiculous! While apparently the film stayed true to the book, I think the filmmakers should have taken it upon themselves to make alterations so that the film could successfully make the transition to the big screen. On a different note, I personally enjoyed the sets and costumes of Divergent. The crew took a different approach to the futuristic style, but still maintained a sleek uniform look that contributed to the gloominess of a utopian society.
The best aspect of Divergent was Shailene Woodley as Tris. I first watched her in The Secret Life of the American Teenager, and she was pretty awful then. However, I think she held her own in this role; she was genuine and she made it easy to love her as an antagonist. On the other hand, Theo James, who played Tris’ love interest Four, was lackluster in his role. His acting felt awkward and forced. Their romantic relationship, which played a big part in the plot, felt overly cheesy and weird because of James’ acting. Kate Winslet, who portrayed Jeanine Matthews, did a great job as a powerful, corrupt leader. I think that each actor stands well on their own, but the relationships between the characters felt fake, as if there was no connection between them whatsoever.
Divergent wasn’t the complete disaster that I was expecting it to be. I think that the concept behind this society had a lot of potential. However, the film’s potential was not reached because of poor decisions with the screenplay. The other aspects, like casting and set design, kept Divergent from failing miserably. This film definitely could have been less than two hours, and still have gotten the main plot points across. The actresses of Divergent stood out among the men, and contributed to the few positives of the film. Divergent ended in a great spot for the already confirmed follow-up, Insurgent. I think that this series could make a strong comeback with the sequel and potentially become quality movies.
After recently reading the novel, I was a little skeptical on how it would translate into a film script. While I really enjoyed reading the book its plot was relatively slow moving, heavily relying on Tris’ internal dialogue to draw the reader in and immerse them in her world: a hard writing technique for a movie to really capture. More than that, I thought the lengthy Dauntless initiation process may be too time consuming for the film to completely cover, so I figured the storyline would have to be significantly changed to make for a more action packed movie. I was surprised to see how closely the script stuck to the book—while some aspects were changed, I didn’t feel it compromised the integrity of the original story.
While its devotion to the book was refreshing, I felt a significant downside was that some of the major themes, in particular the personality-based factions and mind control serum, that held such gravity on paper, ended up feeling a little corny on the big screen. To put it simply, they just didn’t quite translate.
Without a doubt, my favorite aspect of the movie adaption was the casting. Shailene Woodley was particularly phenomenal. I felt she perfectly encapsulated the Tris from the books, and I was particularly moved by her performance during the death scene of Tris’ mother. I thought Theo James also deserved a mention for his portrayal of Four. James struck a good balance between a cold, calculating leader and compassionate a love interest, giving Four the three-dimensional representation the character deserves. The rest of the ensemble cast all stayed true to the characters in the book, and I loved feeling that no one was out of place.
All in all, I really enjoyed the movie, but I felt as if most of my engagement was an interest in how the script would cover details of the book, rather than an actual intrigue in the movie itself. That being said, I absolutely can’t wait for Insurgent—as the second book in the series the plot was much more fast paced with lots of dramatic twists and constant action sequences, all of which will no doubt translate into an engaging, nail-biting film. While Divergent may seem like a slow start, but I consider the entire series a unique and interesting story that definitely deserves to be told on the big screen.