Touted as the next big thing after the hugely successful The Hunger Games franchise, Divergent is another dystopian young adult story starring an unfairly good-looking cast.
Divergent is set in a Chicago of the future, where the citizens live in a new world order: everyone falls into a faction dictated by their personality and each faction has a distinct role to play in society.
Abnegation, who wear grey, are the selfless who work as public servants, helping the poor and handling food distribution. Erudite are the scholars of this world (they wear blue) who value knowledge above all. Candor (dressed in black and white) are the brutally honest.
Amity (who wear red) are the fun, peace-loving ones in charge of farming. And finally there’s Dauntless, the brave (some say psycho) who are the military of this world and of course they wear black.
When the movie begins we see Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley), the central character in the series, on the day she has to undergo the Choosing Ceremony. At the age of 16 every teen must choose which faction he or she will be for life. While most choose to return to the faction they grew up in, a handful will transfer. This means they will leave home.
Something is amiss when Tris has to go for a test to determine which faction she really belongs to biologically. Tori (Maggie Q) the test administrator is stunned by her results and hurries Tris out, telling her not to tell anyone what happened, and to say her test result was Abnegation when in fact it was Abnegation and Dauntless and Erudite.
At the Choosing ceremony, to the shock of their parents and the Abnegation faction, both Beatrice and her brother Caleb choose to leave their faction: Caleb to Erudite and Beatrice to Dauntless.
This begins Beatrice’s life as she determines. She gives herself a new name: Tris, and strives to be as brave and daredevil as natural born Dauntless. The initiation into the faction would make NSmen thankful for Pulau Tekong.
The tests are twofold: death-defying physical challenges and psychological torture by way of a “fear landscape”. Tris is injected with a serum that causes her to hallucinate about her deepest fears and she has to find a way out. It soon becomes clear that she doesn’t deal with these mental tests like normal Dauntless, as she exits her landscape faster than anyone in history. But it is this “gift” that endangers her.
Those that do not fall neatly into a faction but who display multiple qualities are called Divergent, a breed considered highly “dangerous” to society as they are non-conformist and unpredictable.
Of course there has to be a hero to be counterfoil to the heroine. He comes in the (very nice) shape of her instructor Four (played by Theo James, last seen seducing Lady Mary in Downton Abbey as Mr Pamuk—but I digress). Four and Tris get together soon enough, after he rescues her from three murderous thugs.
The plot gets interesting when Erudite leader Jeanine Matthews (an ice cold Kate Winslet) comes into the picture and propagates a rumor that the Abnegation are stealing the food they are supposed to be distributing, and mounts an offensive against them.
On the pretext of injecting a tracking device into the Dauntless, Jeanine, working with the corrupt Dauntless leader Eric, administers a hypnosis serum into the Dauntless and creates an army of killers. The zombie army enters Abnegation armed to the teeth, obeying the computed orders of Jeanine Matthews to kill the leadership of Abnegation.
The world as Tris knows is turned upside down: she realises the truth about her parents too late and by the end of the movie, she has gone from innocent girl to warrior.
Director Neil Burger took a number of liberties with the original plot—purists in the audience hissed their discontent—but the cast, led by the flawed beauty that is Woodley and the tough guy-with-a-back story James, carry the story forward well. The chemistry between the leads is worth the price of the movie ticket. Much of the violence in the book—including one scene involving a butter knife and an eyeball—has been left out so that this can be a family movie.
It is inevitable that Divergent gets compared to The Hunger Games. It doesn’t have the game-show charm of THG or Jennifer Lawrence in hot dresses but Tris is a character that more girls can identify with: we are braver than we think we can be.