When a movie studio is looking for properties to acquire as potential screenplay material is a plethora of places they can traditionally look; the Broadway stage, the New York Times best-selling book list and, of course, the most lucrative currently is with the comic books many of us grew up enjoying. A subset of one of the aforementioned sources, young adult fantasy, has proven itself to be a rich repository for movie ideas. They have everything necessary to engender a hit film or better yet the franchise. The fantasy and science fiction aspects of these novels can now be realistically depicted by the current state-of-the-art special effects available to a filmmaker. The intrinsic nature of the genre will certainly require a vibrant, youthful cast that can readily connect to the target audience of teenagers and twenty-somethings. The storylines translates to films that contain action, drama, romance, and quite frequently a defiant attitude towards the powers that be. At least authority as defined within the context story. Now that the ‘Twilight Saga’ is behind us, another young adult fiction series is poised to migrate from book to screen ‘Divergent’. This is the first in a series of novels, so far trilogy, by author Veronica Roth. Set in a post-apocalyptic city of Chicago the central theme for this story is one that always been popular for this age group and in fact has stayed with many of us as we proceeded to grow older, the dystopia. For generation whose earliest influences in literature included ‘Brave New World’ and ‘1984’ the Idea of a society work with oppression all in the name of efficiency resonated strongly with us as we lived during the time when communism was considered a constant an imminent threat. Although the movie sitting here, ‘Divergent’, suffered some of the faults common to the introductory portion of a saga, the concepts and fundamental ideals and themes behind it prompted me to click on Amazon and Navigate to the Kindle store to purchase the set.
The story, as does the film, begins many years after an apocalyptic war devastated the world. The city of Chicago’s immediate environs are surrounded by a huge impenetrable wall that is heavily guarded at all times. The wall serves not only to keep the continued menace at bay, but to isolate the citizens from the ruined world outside. To protect society a new way of living was devised. The population was divided by factions, each based on a manifesto derived what its founders felt was responsible for the collapse of civilization. The Erudite believe that the world fell due to ignorance, so they embrace intelligence and learning. They are the scientists and educators. Next is Candor, felt the world fell through lies and deceit. They embrace truthfulness at all cost, commonly available lawyers. Then there is a group that has pulled away for the most part from the rest, Amity, the peaceful who blame the war mongers. The warriors and protectors of provided by the Dauntless faction believed civilization collapsed because of the week. Finally there is Abnegation, the selfless, blaming read and selfishness as the cause. They live a peaceful life serving others. Because of this mandate of servitude they are entrusted with the governmental positions of the overall society. Children are brought up understanding the precepts of their faction by their families until the time of the choosing. During that ceremony the young person is tested to determine which faction their personality is best suited to join. At the time of the selection, the candidate is free to choose any faction they wish, but once the decision is made it is binding and final. Those that do not fit into any faction are called the faction less. With no faction to protect them they are largely homeless living in a slum with little means to support themselves. Part of the service performed by the Abnegation faction is to provide the faction less food and supplies.
The main protagonist of the story is Beatrice (Shailene Woodley), a 16-year-old girl in the Abnegation faction. Along with her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort), they are about to become candidates for the selection ceremony. In this ritual each young person must decide which faction they wish to spend the rest of their life in. Before the actual selection young person is taken into a room where a proctor administers a serum that will help identify which faction they are best suited for psychologically. The candidate is free to choose whatever faction they desire, but that choice is binding for the rest of their lives. Beatrice’s proctor, Tori (Maggie Q) is a member of the Dauntless faction and is quite upset when the results are returned. Beatrice tested positive for three different factions; Erudite Dauntless and Abnegation. The test is designed so that only one choice should have been presented. Those who were deemed suitable for more than one faction are designated as Divergent and considered a danger to the harmony of society. There usually executed on the spot. Tori, takes Beatrice to the side and informs of the results. She wants her to never tell anybody that she is a Divergent and to just elect of family’s faction. When it comes time for the actual selection both Beatrice and her brother Caleb surprised their parents. Caleb selects Erudite while Beatrice chooses Dauntless. After a brief and cheerful goodbye, Beatrice is taken off to be indoctrinated into a new faction.
The reputation that the Dauntless has as adrenaline junkies is quite well earned, is Beatrice soon discovers. They get to the Dauntless facility by jumping on a moving train jumping off to a rooftop at the destination. Once there, the true initiation begins. Beatrice changes her name to Tris and, in the fashion of her new faction goes and gets a tattoo of three birds in flight on her shoulder. This helps is signified to herself and others that she is beginning a new life. To quickly makes a new best friend with Christina (Zoë Kravitz), a transfer from the Candor faction. Tris soon discovers that she has to work harder than she ever imagined to establish and maintain a ranking that will prevent have been denied admittance and relegated to being a Faction-less non-entity. Her group is trained by a senior member of Dauntless, the young man named Four (Theo James). Surreptitiously, Four provides helpful tips and hints as to how to overcome the challenges. She managed to get through the physical portion when it comes time for the psychological section with humor fear of Dauntless status is inconsistent with the means she employs in order to face the greatest fears. Four, catches this and realized she must be a Divergent and helps her to properly pass the test as expected. There is a lot of the training in this first film, which does give the impression that it’s dragging. It is, however, a necessary evil for the first part of a trilogy and what is fundamentally an introductory origin story. The world of these books established is exceptionally complex and texture. This is what drew me to purchase the original novels in the first place and what lead me to believe that there is potential to the following films in the series that could not be fully tapped here. The audience had to be introduced into a very complicated society and given at least a cursory understanding of each faction in the part they play in the overall society. This was permitted to evolve into a plot point that will become central to the rest of this film, and those that follow. The Erudite faction believes it should be them and not the Abnegation faction to fill governmental positions. They have begun a smear campaign against Abnegation in order to discredit them among the other factions. As we find out in this movie. It will go through any lengths, no matter how immoral to achieve their goals. Tris, and Four are pulled been to rebellion to prevent Erudite from gaining control.
Because of the position this film plays in what is a trilogy on the literary side, I may not be able to make this film as highly as some fans might feel is warranted, but as mentioned, it is understandable and does not reflect on either the talents of the filmmaker or cast. The director, Neil Burger, does have a few of the films on his resume, predominantly those of some sort or another. The cast is extremely good with veteran actors Tony Goodwin and Ashley Judd in the parts of Beatrice his mother and father. The head of the Erudite faction, Jeanine (Kate Winslet), brings a touch of villainy to her role which is absolutely delicious to watch. Ms. Woodley is one of the upcoming young stars of regeneration. After gaining attention by starring as a pregnant 15-year-old girl in the ABC family television series ‘Secrets of an American Teenager’, this actress has been making quite a splash in both independent and studio films. It will be very interesting to see where the cinematic side of the story goes next. Based on what I’ve read in the books the pacing is certain to pick up and even more character development than what was achieves here lies ahead. This is definitely a franchise worth following.
Audio Commentary with Director Neil Burger