Divergent is set in a futuristic dystopic society which has been divided into five factions that each represent a different virtue.
The question, “What is your greatest strength?” is no longer a standard job interview question but instead has become the basis of an entire society. Five factions – Abnegation, Candour, Amity, Dauntless and Erudite now comprise the population, and this compulsory segregation is designed somehow to promote peace, despite an almost immediate sense that these groups are poised for conflict.
Teenagers must undergo extreme physical and intense psychological tests, that transform them all. They have to decide if they want to stay in their faction or switch to another – for the rest of their lives. Which one will it be?
Our heroine is Tris (Shailene Woodley), who was born in the Amish-like Abnegation faction to selflessly serve others but doesn’t quite fit in. It turns out that that she is ‘Divergent’, with an aptitude for three factions. This is portrayed like a superpower, with Tris able to solve problems that stump her faction counterparts, but it makes her a threat to the carefully ordered system. If anyone knew, it would mean a certain death. As she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, this secret might help her save the people she loves… or it might destroy her.
Tris soon joins Dauntless, a group characterised by uber tight sportswear, a penchant for whooping and a habit of jumping from fast objects and high buildings. There she makes new friends, including trainer Four (Theo James). The movie then transforms into a lengthy and violent training montage.
However every moment that Tris dedicates to improving her skills moves her ever closer to being being found out as Divergent by the volatile Erudite leader Jeanine (Kate Winslet).
There’s more training than action as much of the film is concerned with Tris’ quest to move up her class rankings rather than grand questions of politics. Then there’s also the personal dramas Tris must negotiate.
I went along to this movie with an open mind, hoping for the best. Part of me was rooting for Shailene Woodley to be the next Jennifer Lawrence, but alas I think not. She is all talk and no action, and fails to save this cardboard adaptation of Veronica Roth’s post-apocalyptic teen novel.
I like my heroines to be sassy and fearless but in Divergent the audience become third wheel in the romance between Tris and Four. Physically weak and emotionally insecure, Tris’ first appearance on the big screen is as more of an underdog rather than a warrior.
If you’re a sucker for the books or lazy romance-action flicks then Divergent is for you, otherwise I would say give it a miss. It will just remind you of the perils of your teenage years and all the dreadful angst that ensued.
By Ruth Walker