Director: Neil Burger
Stars: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet, Ashley Judd
One of the most anticipated Hollywood production of March 2014, the one that sold half of its tickets on its first day of advance ticket sales, has opened impressively with $4.9 million at late-night shows on Thursday the 20th.
To be honest, I think everybody knew that the Divergent movie will not win any Oscars, but this is not even its purpose, as is the case with all YA productions. Even so, as I was sure the movie will not stand up to criticism, it kept me hooked like an adrenaline junkie from the first to the last moment.
The Plot of Divergent Falls into YA Category Stories
This story takes place in the city of Chicago in the distant future. The city looks, strikingly, like a semi ruined concrete-playground version of that city and is divided into 5 factions: Abnegation, meant for the selfless – is for puritan self-sacrifice, simple folks – the only ones trusted to hold public office; Amity, meant for the peaceful – is for the naturally peaceful, hippy-type farmers; Candor, meant for the honest – is for those who are compulsively honest and outspoken opinionated types, suited for legality and politics; Dauntless, meant for the brave – is for the fearless tattooed warrior guys in black – the faction that anyone cool would want to be part of; and Erudite, meant for the intelligent – is for those defined by their love for knowledge and logical judgment.
Beatrice and her peers have the right to choose a faction for themselves on their sixteenth year of life. But when she takes the test to learn which faction she's best suited for, it turns out that she's in the rare forbidden category known as Divergent. As a divergent she doesn’t fit in one but three factions at once: Abnegation, Erudite and Dauntless, meaning she is self-sacrificial, brilliant and courageous too. This does not qualify her as an outlaw, but we find out that her having multiple qualities pose a threat to the conformity, narrow-minded built of the society, the transpiring reason being the complexity that favors independence of thought, and thus being far harder to control.
Beatrice chooses to become part of Dauntless not because she has any special athletic skills but because it's her nature to risk for her dream. Although her decision might seem an impulse, taken in the spur of the moment at first, Woodley, by her power of acting genuine, complex characters, makes us feel that she is following her dream at every step, with a determination suited more for a mature, strong-willed woman. She manages to show us what a prickly, fearful, yet daring personality looks like when it's nestled deep within an otherwise quiet, modest, not-athletic, bookish girl.
Beatrice’s first moments with her new tribe reveal the sense of thrills and danger she observed from a distance. Jumping from a moving train – the Dauntless way of arriving, and one of the film’s best sequences – she gets to experience the kinetic physicality long denied to her.
But soon after Beatrice joins the Dauntless, she finds that train jumping, building scaling and other wild behavior isn’t the choice of free spirits but the requirement of soldiers in training. Being warned that divergence is a death sentence, she reinvents herself as “Tris,” a fearless and spirited member of Dauntless faction. However, before being accepted as a Dauntless warrior, Tris has the ingrate position of hiding the skill that would allow her pass the initiation test.
The Characters of Divergent: Cliche but yet Genuine
The two main characters fall into the YA cliché perfectly: she’s cute, feisty and smart, he’s tall charming and handsome, with his body ripped, which, of course, needs to be shown on screen; the pair create an understated, slow-burn flirtatious chemistry that help developing the character moments of the movie.
Tris (Shailene Woodley) is a superior, market-tested YA role model, like Katniss in "The Hunger Games." But she is also, as Woodley plays her, an intensely vulnerable and relatable character that keeps you hanging on and rooting for her. She may not have the blazing strength of Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss, but there's a subtlety and naturalism to her performance that make her very accessible and appealing. And when she needs to play it tough and kick some butt she doesn't oversell it.
Four (Theo James) is overall a likeable, sexy guy. Quietly and generically brooding at first, James reveals more depth and shading to his conflicted character as the story's stakes increase.
Divergent Movie: Director, Music and Adaptation
In some ways, the screen adaptation, credited to Evan Daugherty (Snow White and the Huntsman) and Vanessa Taylor (Game of Thrones) makes up for what the novel lacks. The writing doesn’t particularly excel in description. The text makes it hard to imagine most of the settings, and you just have to go along with the weak logic behind the factions.
Overcoming these limits, the future world of Roth’s novel looks interesting onscreen and the story’s elements of spectacle, decay, symbolism and struggle are grandiose. However, they only rarely feel fully alive, the CGI objects if not apparent, pretty intuitively guessed.
Neil Burger (Limitless, The Illusionist) is best known as a director whose films create solid and immersive cinematic experiences with nice flourishes. Divergent very much follow the trend of Burger’s other films – a solid production with nice developments. Despite the (budgetary) shortcomings, Burger’s small stylistic interventions do make many of the surreal moments of the film interesting (e.g. the fear test sequences). It’s satisfying to see the locations come alive, especially since one’s imagination has all the space to explore when reading the book.
Music also had a prevailing role in creating a fast pacing and still heart throbbing atmosphere. Rousing when appropriate and mostly unobtrusive, the soundtrack keeps you hooked on each upcoming scene. From the first notes my mind went to Gladiator, and I was not surprised to find out that the score was attributed to Junkie XL and Hans Zimmer was credited as executive score producer.
Divergent Movie: Critical Reception
Divergent has received generally mixed reviews from critics. Film aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a 40% rating based on reviews from 131 critics, with an average score of 5.5/10.
Metacritic reported a score of 49 based on reviews from 34 critics.
IGN’s Matt Patches rated the movie a 5.8 out of 10, citing its similarities to other young adult films and contrived Dauntless plot line. However, he praised lead actors Theo James and Shailene Woodley's performances, stating that they "...add personality and physicality to the limp script they're acting out”.
Scott Mendelson of Forbes magazine argued that despite Woodley's excellent performance, the generic story reduced a large portion of the mythology to irrelevancy. Still, he stated that the film will please the novel's fan-base.
Watch or Read Divergent: Conclusion
Divergent is all about identity, about searching your soul and determining who you are and how you fit in as you emerge from adolescence to adulthood. It explores a common adolescent anxiety – the painful realization that coming into one's own sometimes means leaving family behind, both ideologically and physically.
Keeping in mind the above, it needs to be observed that the movie managed only partly to convey its initial purpose: the results can be thrilling but the film as a whole feels both overlong and emotionally truncated at the same time. Anyways, those who've read the book will probably be satisfied with the results. My opinion is that, in order to taste the substance of the tale in its entirety, one should read the books and then see the movie.
For instance, one of the many examples supporting this statement would be the importance of parents and family, that could seem diminished throughout the movie. Unless you read the book you would not understand that Tris is fighting against the underlying rule of the society itself “factions before blood” and her attachment to family comes not from her being divergent but from her own untainted human nature. Reaching too quickly for the epic, the movie skimps on setting up the Prior family dynamics, lessening the emotional impact of the ceremony in which both Beatrice and her brother, Caleb, opt to transfer out of Abnegation, the faction of the selfless.
Amazon Price: $55.97 $25.09 Buy Now
(price as of Feb 20, 2016)
A specially designed slipcase
Hardcover editions of Divergent, Insurgent, and Divergent #3
Bonus booklet! "The World of Veronica Roth's Divergent Series," a forty-eight-page booklet including Faction Manifestos, a Faction Quiz and Results, a Q&A with Veronica Roth, playlists, discussion questions, series inspirations, and much more!
Other Dystopian Young Adults Movies, Similar to Hunger Games and Divergent, in the Pipe in 2014
If you enjoyed this movie, you will find here below two other goodies announced for this year (apart from the already much anticipated Hunger Games sequel – Mocking Jay part 1):
The Maze Runner (19 September 2014)
Set in a post-apocalyptic world, young Thomas is deposited in a community of boys after his memory is erased, soon learning they're all trapped in a maze that will require him to join forces with fellow "runners" for a shot at escape. Starring: Dylan O'Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Will Poulter and Patricia Clarckson
The Giver (15 August 2014)
In a seemingly perfect community, without war, pain, suffering, differences or choice, a young boy is chosen to learn from an elderly man about the true pain and pleasure of the "real" world. Starring: Brenton Thwaites, Alexander Skarsgård, Taylor Swift, Meryl Streep, Katie Holmes, Jeff Bridges
Amazon Price: $71.99 $14.39 Buy Now
(price as of Feb 20, 2016)
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