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I came to this film aware of Veronica Roth’s trilogy, but having never read the books, my expectations going in were nonexistent. As a huge fan of The Hunger Games, I thought I could give Divergent a chance and see how I liked it. I found the story to be as engaging as anything else out there even if parts of it felt less original than I thought it could have been. Before I get into more details, let’s look at what this movie is all about.
Set in post-apocalyptic Chicago, our hero Beatrice “Tris” Prior, is born into one of five factions in a society formed 100 years after a major war that ripped apart the nation. Teens living in this society must take a test, which tells them which faction they should choose to be a part of for the remainder of their lives. The test isn’t the be all end all though, as individuals still have a choice as to which faction they join on Choosing Day. Unfortunately, this means no further contact with your previous faction. Even more unfortunate for Tris, is that her test results are inconclusive, meaning she fits into more than one category. She is what is called Divergent and that is a dangerous thing to be in her society.
Naturally, this sets in motion a series of events that test Tris’ character and beliefs and ultimately give rise to a stronger sense of self within and she becomes more confident in her abilities. The classic coming-of-age tale. This is portrayed quite capably by the talented Shailene Woodley. Now, you may have come across articles comparing her to Jennifer Lawrence based on similar career trajectories and likability and so forth. However, I think that Woodley is a completely separate case of talent. The work she does here as in previous films like The Descendants and The Spectacular Now, does much to elevate the story. In the hands of a lesser actor, Tris may have felt Bella-esque, no disrespect to the Twi-hards out there. Woodley brings a depth and a toughness to this role that is a requisite if we’re going to care about Tris and her plight. She does it with deceptive ease, but she is not alone.
This film also boasts the solid talents of Academy Award winner Kate Winslet in a minor role, but an important one. She along with Scandal’s Tony Goldwyn, Ashley Judd and Maggie Q among others, provided solid support for Woodley. Speaking of support, Theo James, who plays one of Tris’ Dauntless instructors and main love-interest turns in a strong performance as Four. I hadn’t really known who he was before this film, but was pleasantly surprised by his considerable acting chops, the physicality he demonstrated and the contained sensitivity he brought to a role that obviously required the right balance of toughness without excessive masculinity.
The film’s musical score put together by Junkie XL (guided by one of the great score gods Hans Zimmer) was solid, however I did find some of the musical cues to be a bit perplexing. Certain sequences where music from the soundtrack album featuring various artists were placed, I felt could have been better served by cues from the orchestral score. That’s just my opinion. This is just one aspect that sets the film’s identity apart from other films like it. I was reminded of Zack Snyder’s Legend of the Guardians, which had musical cues that made me feel similar.
The only other thing I griped about was the love story. Obviously, there are sparks flying when Tris and Four meet, but I was thankful that for one, the love story was a gradual one, which felt more believable unlike other movies where the love story feels forced. The other piece I was thankful for was that there was not another love-triangle to really deal with, because we’ve seen it in Twilight and we’ve seen it in The Hunger Games. However, I wasn’t thrilled that there was a love-interest at all, even though that is the source material. So many of these YA stories that features a heroine contain some love story element, which is to be expected and that to me, was the issue. Give me something I’m not expecting. I found myself wanting this story to focus solely on Tris and her journey, while perhaps setting the scene for a future love story for her in the succeeding sequels. Other than this, the experience was enjoyable.
The movie was quite entertaining and as emotionally grounding as I felt it should have been. The story I found to be less complicated than I thought it might be, which was a plus, having not read the book. It was clear what was happening and who everyone was and what the goals were. The film is littered with messages about nonconformity, even praising it, which makes it easy to see the key appeal in the story aside from a well-drawn out and extremely relatable lead character in Tris. It’s also not a stretch to see how far reaching the appeal goes beyond the YA target audience since we are taught that it is our differences that make us special. So, while being divergent might be dangerous, it is also the very thing that makes us the complex and beautiful humans we are.