“What Makes You Different, Makes You Dangerous”
Director: Neil Burger
Cast: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet
Synopsis: In a world divided by factions based on virtues, Tris learns she’s Divergent and won’t fit in. When she discovers a plot to destroy Divergents, Tris and the mysterious Four must find out what makes Divergents dangerous before it’s too late.
It’s not difficult to understand the appeal of Divergent to young teens: a plucky heroine refuses to suppress her own individuality despite the harsh penalties imposed on those who don’t conform to one of a narrow selection of a clinical society’s rigidly defined roles. There probably isn’t a fourteen-year-old in the world that can’t identify with Katni- er, Tris in Neil Burger’s slick adaptation of the Veronica Roth novel.
Tris (Shailene Woodley – The Descendants) lives in a dystopian future in which the population of a walled-in Chicago is divided into five factions, each of which represents a human virtue: The Erudites are smart and logical, the Amity faction is comprised of happy hippy types who grow crops, while The Candor faction are an honest lot who presumably don’t contribute much to society but go around telling the other factions stuff they’d rather not hear. Tris has been raised in the Abnegation Faction, selfless people who run the government because they don’t value power, and who care for the Factionless, those who failed to meet the criteria of their chosen Faction. Finally there’s the Dauntless, the bravest citizens who protect the other factions. The Dauntless appear to run everywhere and whoop a lot, which naturally proves irresistible to an adventurous girl like Tris. However, Tris is a Divergent, someone who possesses all the qualities of the various Factions, and who is therefore considered dangerous by the Erudite, who see them as a threat to the stability of the system.
Tris elects to become a member of the Dauntless Faction, and much of the film follows her struggle to make the cut as she undergoes a variety of tests with her fellow initiates. Her ability to face her fears arouses the curiosity of Dauntless instructor Four (Theo James). Fortunately for Tris, however, Four is an enlightened individual who values divergency of the soul even if he doesn’t necessarily possess it himself, and so he helps Tris to disguise the characteristics of the Divergent which would expose her to the other Dauntless instructors.
It doesn’t take much to realise that the society created by Divergent is completely unsustainable, but the movie chooses to gloss over such complexities to focus on the emotional journey of Tris as she comes to terms with her changing perception both of herself and her role in society. In Four she has a handsome, brooding protector who is studiedly cool in that way that makes teenage girls a little dizzy, and in Erudite leader Jeanine (Kate Winslet – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), a deceptively approachable nemesis who values the security of society over freedom of the individual. The plot treads dangerously close to nonsense at times, but it’s always watchable thanks to its lightning pace and a welcome tendency not to patronise its target audience. Older members of the audience might find themselves asking questions that the movie stubbornly refuses to answer, but if one can accept – or at least overlook – the flawed premise at the core of the story, Divergent should provide reasonable entertainment. The action scenes come along at regular intervals and are varied enough not to become repetitive, and Burger is to be commended for making the fight scenes look a lot more violent than they actually are thanks to some clever editing. The violence is nearly bloodless in order for the film to obtain the rating it required, but it rarely feels as if Divergent is pulling its punches.
(Reviewed 29th December 2014)