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Divergent tells a story of a post-war world, where Chicago is not more than a wasteland. The small society that still lives there has put a fence around the city from the unknown and ominous that is “out there”, and to establish order, created five factions,  in which people are sorted.

These five factions are based on virtues. They are Dauntless, the brave, who are the police and army of the community; Abnegation, derogatorily called “Stiffs”, are the selfless, who take care of those who cannot do it themselves and the government is formed from Abnegation; Erudite, the intelligent, are the researchers and scientists; Candor, the honest, strive towards truth and are the lawmakers; and Amity, the peaceful, who strive towards happiness. Finally, there are the factionless, those that didn’t fit in any of the other factions or were cast out.

This all is explained in a short, to-the-point introduction when the movie opens. The movie chronicles the life of Tris, who finds out she is Divergent when she takes her test – she has the traits of more than one faction, and with that, is a danger to the existing social structure, because she cannot be controlled. She goes on to transfer from her original faction, Abnegation, to Dauntless.

Some Good and Less Good Things

First things first: some of the things I liked about this movie. I was impressed with Shailene Woodley‘s performance – she has the right kind of innocence and cool over her to convey the character of Tris properly. There were a few truly kick-ass scenes she delivered just perfectly, although other scenes were less strong. She did make my eyes water when she had to leave her mom, which is a feat on its own.

source: Summit Entertainment

source: Summit Entertainment

Furthermore, if we’re going to compare this movie to Twilight (which it’s not anything like), at least I can say that Theo James‘ performance as Four wasn’t as flat and boring as Robert Pattinson’s was in those movies. Four is an interesting character with mysteries of his own, and not all of them are revealed just yet.

Kate Winslet, I’m sad to say, gave one of the weaker performances. She overacted – her villain character Janine didn’t come across as intelligent and cunning like she is in the books. It’s unfortunate; her pouting and over-the-top strutting about and general cliché villainousness really did the character injustice.

As for direction, I thought Neil Burger‘s style befitted the genre, movie and story well. I like his dark, somewhat flashy style, and just like in The Illusionist  and Limitless, the movie has high contrast, with sharp colors, which are so important as the colors define the factions. Also, although the movie was 139 minutes long, the pace of the story felt just right.

Finally, I’d like to mention the music used in the movie, for which Junkie XL was responsible. I especially enjoyed the use of Woodkid’s Run Boy Run, when Tris had to run to catch the train for the first time, and as I’m a fan of Gesaffelstein, I enjoyed their collaboration with A$AP Rocky, too, and it even featured one of Skrillex’s new tracks. The music was all used in the right spots and lent a hip feeling to the movie, which is what you get when you put a Dutch DJ like Junkie XL in charge.

True to the Book?

I read the first two novels of the Divergent Series a few years ago, and enjoyed them. I was curious to see whether the movie would live up to the first book. All I can say that it was true to the book. I’m conflicted on whether it lived up to it. The world was well fleshed out, but I felt the story was rushed through and the characters were flattened. Moreover, like in the book, the initiation phase dragged on.

source: Summit Entertainment

source: Summit Entertainment

Then the initiation phase is suddenly over, and although there had been some minor foreshadowing, we’re abruptly thrown into a state coup – Erudite wants to take governmental power from Abnegation, saying that those with knowledge and logic should be the ones to lead their society. This shift comes like a slap in the face, and it almost feels like a desperate attempt to lift this story to the more interesting societal observation it is. This was done much better in the book, where the build-up is a lot more subtle.

It must be said, however, that Divergent is purely an introduction to Insurgent – the world has been illustrated, we now know the characters, the factions. It’s a setup for the greater story, where they are going to fight Erudite and the system for real, which in my opinion is much more interesting. All in all, though, on the main story lines, Divergent didn’t stray far from the original story.

A Budding Love With Odd, Unfounded Fear

I liked that the emphasis wasn’t on Tris and Four’s love story. It’s one of the down points of young adult stories, the focus on the hormonal love stuff. While it was a major plot and had its corny (and awkwardly acted) moments, it wasn’t what was most important about this movie, nor was it in the books. When I first saw the trailers, I was afraid that it was all the movie was going to be about, but it wasn’t, and I’m glad for it.

This is something that bothered me, though. While Four was an immensely patient, gallant and trustworthy guy for all we saw, when Tris goes into her fearscape during her Dauntless test, we see Tris is afraid he’ll rape her. In the books, this was more about her fear for sexual intimacy and vulnerability in general. Some of the nuance that Veronica Roth wrote into her characters was chopped away for the sake of driving the movie’s plot forward, but it sure damaged the characters’ consistency and nuance.

The Ultimate Virtue That Is Extraversion

Something else that bothered me with both the movie and book, is that Dauntless is presented as amazingly cool. They’re risk-taking, enthusiastic, assertive, love their parties, love loud music, they’re impulsive and in constant need of high sensory stimulation. That to me is an exact description of extraversion, and Dauntless glorifies it.

The Abnegation faction, the selfless, on the other hand, they are the more introverted group of people (who are also described with traits that signify introversion), but they are derogatorily called Stiffs by the other factions, and are not well appreciated, even suspected of stealing and cheating the other factions.

source: Summit Entertainment

source: Summit Entertainment

As an introvert myself, I’ve always been a bit bothered with this kind of glorification of extraversion in society. We all somehow need to be cool, and cool is not ever associated with reading books, staying at home or philosophizing about world problems. It’s always about parties, (extreme) sports, being super sociable. This is something we – in Western Society – are brainwashed with from day one. The introverts are always the odd ones out.

Divergent emphasizes on that ideal of extraversion: Tris always wanted to be like them. She joins them, and becomes them. Despite the fact that she’s Divergent, she still has a strong preference for the “cool” of Dauntless. This YA story has been read and is now watched by so many teenagers – shouldn’t they instead be told it’s okay to be yourself, that it’s okay to be an introvert, too? Maybe Tris should have chosen Erudite, and fought them from within. Being smart and not overly sensation seeking is cool too, kids. It’s definitely totally A-OK.

All in all, Divergent‘s may not be a good movie, it’s an entertaining one. I love these kind of dystopian worlds and I think they did fairly well adapting the story to the screen. I’m looking forward to see the sequel, which, if it’d depend solely on the story, is going to be much better.

What did you think of Divergent? Did you read the books? What do you think about about the glorification of extraversion in Divergent?

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P.S. on the Divergent website, you can take the aptitude test and see in which faction you belong. What did you score? I got Divergent, scoring equally in Candor, Abnegation and Erudite. I’d pick Erudite though. Ravenclaw ftw.


Divergent (2014)


Cast:   , a.o.

Writing: Evan Daugherty & Vanessa Taylor (screenplay), Veronica Roth (novel)

Cinematography: Alwin H. Küchler

Genre: Science Fiction, Action, Adventure

139 minutes

IMDb | Trailer | Buy the Book