Shailene Woodley, Maggie Q, Ashley Judd, Theo James, Kate Winslett. Directed by Neil Berger.
In Divergent‘s post-apocalyptic Chicago, society is divided into five factions named Amity, Candor, Dauntless, Erudite, and Abnegation. Amity values happiness and peace; Candor values honesty and fairness, Dauntless values courage, Erudite values science and knowledge, and Abnegation values selflessness and service. Each faction operates a distinct part of life within the fenced-in city (the Amity, for example, growing the food for the whole city, but the Abnegation governing the food’s distribution), raising its children until they are old enough to be tested for competency and inclination.
The test results are recorded but kept secret, and when the young adults are faced with the Choosing ceremony, they may choose to stay with the faction they were raised by (the most common outcome), or they may choose any other faction, either in line with their test results or not, since the test results are known only to the chooser.
Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley) has always felt out of place in Abnegation, something that fills her with guilt. Her parents are leaders in the Abnegation community, models of selfless thought in service to others. Her brother, too, seems effortlessly to place the needs of others above his own desires. Beatrice thinks she’s too selfish for her community, although she certainly values what it stands for, and longs to be more like her family. But something strange happens at her testing, and she learns something about herself that she cannot tell anyone without risking death.
This truth about herself affects everything Beatrice does, and this first film in an anticipated four-movie series (based upon Veronica Roth’s trilogy) traces her experience as she carries her secret through her post-Choosing life. She forms precious new friendships, changes her name to Triss, gains a few enemies, and comes under fire for accusations aimed at her parents. Somehow, what really emerges is something of a survival tale with elements (too many for my tastes) of romance.
It’s pretty good. The cinematography is thoughtful and at times creative, the editing comfortable yet excellent at building tension. My lone complaint is that the supporting characters aren’t developed well, something that might have been sacrificed for better pacing (an understandable choice, if this is the case). Triss’s friendships are a critical element in the trilogy’s developing story, the kind of thing that makes us care as much about her as we should, and while it may have been impossible to flesh out all of the important relationships, some care should have been taken to define at least a few of them. This lack of connectedness serves to flatten the overall film, leaving the plot to do the driving.
The novels are wildly popular, and they’re at least interesting enough to keep me coming back for the next few films, but I suspect that if you don’t have that to motivate you, Divergent the film will only kind of make you want to see what happens next.