'Divergent' isn't the first post-apocalypse sci-fi/fantasy we've seen lately; it's the somewhat familiar story of a young woman (Tris, brought to life here by Shailene Woodley) fighting within an oppressive regime to spark a rebellion. The immense popularity of these kinds of films guarantee box-office success, but if you’re not a fan of the books, is it still worth your $20?
Tris’s walled city society divides people into skill Factions. Wardrobe colour makes these divisions obvious, dressing the lawyer-like Faction in black and white, while the warriors display flashes of red. As a Divergent, Tris is a danger to the status quo, as she may not willingly accept the place and position the society assigns her. 95% of people in Tris’s world are placed in their Faction of origin, and choosing another has political ramifications.
Teenage themes of the conflicting need to fit in and rebel, to find one’s place and identity, and the flush of first love all make appearances. The fear of failure to fit in is emphasised in the homeless Factionless and consequences of Divergence. There are bullies, some of whom are ultimately redeemed by the fortitude of the heroine. The film is so obviously geared to the teenage and young adult demographic that older audiences will struggle to engage beyond abstract considerations of the political themes.
Tris’s faction of Abnegation avoid looking in mirrors – they “reject vanity”. So why was Tris wearing obvious eyeliner and mascara during the entire film? A tiny thing to be so distracting, but it smacked of laziness in the production and detracted from the otherwise well portrayed “reality” of the city. The CGI and cinematography are pretty special at times, with sweeping shots of the city and surrounds. The sets are lavish and the attention to detail is impressive in that respect, including the skilful use of lighting. Nothing looked out of place (except Tris’s makeup). Hans Zimmer’s influence on the score is immediately discernable; however, there are a few moments in the film where the vocal soundtrack feels out of place - they should have stuck to instrumental.
Woodley is currently touted as the next big thing, and here we can see why.
Performances from most of the cast are very good, apart from some overacted nastiness here and there. There are a couple unintentionally funny moments due to awkwardness of the delivery. Woodley is currently touted as the next big thing, and here we can see why. Tris’s emotions are nuanced, subtle, but easy to relate to. Woodley brings a wealth of expression to what might have been another clichéd teenage romance.
The film runs for 2 hours and 20 minutes, and the editing is a bit hit and miss at times. Some scenes moved along snappily while others dragged. Of course, the film suffers from what afflicts all book adaptations - trying to get 400-odd pages into a feature length film - and in that respect, ‘Divergent’ did well.
For fans of the book, ‘Divergent’ is a worthy interpretation of Veronica Roth’s novel. As a standalone film, I have my doubts. It feels too much like a beginning – a pilot episode. Time and sequels will tell if the series will hold its own against the other popular young adult adaptations hitting our screens these days, but if you’re in need of a fix until the next ‘Hunger Games’ installment, ‘Divergent’ will satisfy.