Based on the Veronica Roth book of the same name, “Divergent” is set in Chicago a hundred years after the end of a catastrophic war that left the survivors believing the rest of humanity was destroyed. Living life beneath and between rusting ruins of skyscrapers and protected from some unknown threat by a tremendous wall, most citizens lead a relatively comfortable existence.
When their founders pieced society back together, they designed a model to avoid future conflicts. The people are grouped into five factions based on human virtues. Each faction has a role, an attitude and a way of life that is appropriate for their psychology. Abnegation are the selfless and humble faction into which Beatrice Pryor was born.
Beatrice (Shailene Woodley) and her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) have reached the age where their personalities will be tested and their ideal role will be discovered. Their parents hope that both will be tested as Abnegation so they can remain in faction, with their family. Despite the results of the test, it is up to each individual to make the final choice which faction feels right for them.
The day of the test, Beatrice is nervous. Being Abnegation was never as easy for her as it was her brother. She fears that the test will show she really belongs in a different faction. It turns out her fears are more correct than she realizes.
At the aptitude test, a member of the Dauntless faction called Tori administers Beatrice’s test. Initially brash and insulting, Tori (Maggie Q) changes demeanor at the end of the test. She explains to Beatrice that she has to sneak out the back because her test was inconclusive. Beatrice has tested for three factions: Abnegation, Erudite (Intelligent) and Dauntless (Brave).
Tori manually inputs the results as Abnegation and warns Beatrice to keep her true results a secret. No one can be trusted with the knowledge that she is divergent.Tori knows that the leaders try to eliminate anyone that doesn’t fit into the five neat categories. The best that will happen is that Beatrice will become factionless and be forced to live on the streets. At worst, she’ll be executed.
Back at home, Tori lies to her parents and brother as Tori instructed her to do. The next day at the choosing ceremony she will have to decide whether to continue the charade, or follow her instincts.
Outside the choosing ceremony, Beatrice encounters the Erudite leader Jeanine (Kate Winslet). The Erudites have been building a case for replacing the Abnegation leadership for overall leadership, despite the original design placing that role with the selfless. As a member of the Abnegation leadership, it might work against Beatrice’s father if either of his children choose to leave Abnegation during the choosing ceremony.
At the ceremony, Beatrice watches as several other teens select to stay in faction or switch to others. After her brother surprisingly chooses to leave for Erudite, Beatrice agonizes on the podium until she at last selects Dauntless, the warrior faction that defends the city.
Initiation into Dauntless begins immediately and nothing in her background has prepared her for the physical activity or the reckless stunts performed by Dauntless. Still, she makes it to their compound and begins training, urged on by the knowledge that to fail means becoming factionless. There is no going home.
Taking the name Tris, makes up for her lack of ability with determination in the face of all challenges. During the first phase of her training by the enigmatic Four (Theo James), Tris is warned by her mother that it is the second phase of training she needs to worry about. Her mother seems to know that Tris is divergent and worries that the second phase will show that to all.
Four begins to suspect that Tris is divergent and helps train her to pass the final exam, where Tris has to face her fears without revealing her true nature. Four even allows Tris to accompany him into his “fearscape”, the series of induced hallucinations that represent his deepest fears.
Soon after the test, all of the new recruits are injected with a serum that forces them into a shared hallucination controlled by Erudite, leading them to round up and hunt down all of the Abnegation faction. Unaffected by the serum because of her divergence, Tris is aided by her mother and leads a few others to find the control room to try to free Dauntless from the serum’s influence in time to avoid a massacre of Abnegation.
There is plenty of action and intrigue, but it feels like the film is bursting under the internal pressure of material. At two hours and twenty minutes, there still wasn’t enough time to fit in everything. The pace of the film seems to speed up until I wondered if it would finish in time.
I also found it a bit difficult to discern several of the male characters that just looked too similar to one another. On the other side, Woodley is convincingly innocent and clueless at the beginning, and performs an acceptable transformation into a believable, if unlikely, heroine.
“Divergent” takes the fear of growing up and thrusts it into a world where failing to fit in is singularly dangerous. Fans of the book will find a few notable differences, but the overall flavor and tone seem to fit. For those unfamiliar with the book, the story is probably a bit more rewarding as they experience Beatrice’s confusion and uncertainty along with her. In either case, “Divergent” is worth a look.