In a near-futuristic world, a teenage girl must lead a group of rebels to fight against a government seeking to control them. Along the way, she falls deeply in love with another member of the resistance. Does that sound familiar? It should, because I just described the plot to most YA films these days.
I mean, don’t get me wrong… I love a strong female lead as much as the next girl, but there comes a point when the dystopian genre becomes repetitive and all-too-predictable, such as Hollywood’s latest teen drama, Divergent.
The story takes place in future Chicago, where everybody is separated into five factions based on their personality type. Erudite (the intelligent), Candor (the honest), Amity (the peaceful), Abnegation (the selfless) and Dauntless (the brave).
Tris is Abnegation. She was raised to put other peoples’ needs before her own. At the age of sixteen, she takes an aptitude test to determine the rest of her life, where it is revealed that she is Divergent – a mixture of Abnegation, Erudite and Dauntless. The Divergent are extremely rare, and because their minds can’t be controlled by the faction leaders, they are viewed as a threat (one that is punishable by death).
During the Choosing Ceremony, she picks Dauntless and joins a group of crazy jocks who wear black and jump out of moving trains. But her new life creates a new set of problems. She must complete a series of initiation tests to become a true Dauntless, facing the challenges set by the ruthless leader (Eric), falling in love with her mentor (Four), and learning about the Erudite leader (Jeanine’s) plan to overthrow Abnegation and eradicate all Divergents.
At the climax, each Dauntless member is injected with a special mind-control serum, placing them in a trance-like state and turning them into Erudite’s perfect little soldiers. Due to her special ability, Tris is immune and tries to stop the Dauntless from killing the Abnegation. Ultimately, she reverses the serum’s effects and jumps onto the train to escape Jeanine’s soldiers, becoming an fugitive along with Four, Marcus Eaton (his father), Peter (another initiate) and her brother (an Erudite)…
When I first heard the casting news, I was shocked. Outraged, even. Saoirse Ronan was the perfect Tris in my mind, not some unknown actress! But the film convinced me that Shailene Woodley was the right choice, especially in the knife toss scene, when Tris took Al’s place as target practice. Shailene brings the character to life on screen by presenting both the selfless Abnegation and the fearless Dauntless, and turning her into a likeable character.
While Tris was the central focus, it was hard to ignore her love interest (Theo James), following the Hollywood tradition of casting ridiculously handsome Englishmen for their YA characters (see: Sam Claflin, Max Irons, Jeremy Irvine, Robert Pattinson). Although the balcony kiss was too forced for my liking, the sheer intensity of the eye contact between these two characters brings a whole new level of chemistry.
As the main antagonist, I felt that Kate Winslet lacked a certain villainous edge as Jeanine Matthews. Jai Courtney was far more convincing as the borderline psychopathic Eric, and it wasn’t surprising that the audience cheered when Tris shot him in the leg. However, the most interesting side character was her mother, Natalie Prior, a secret Dauntless badass. Her death brought me close to tears, reminiscent of Simba and Mufasa in Lion King.
Junkie XL successfully threw together a collection of pieces which added that extra layer to the film. As a book reader, I was initially excited to see how the film would play out. In one scene, a wide-eyed Tris walks into the Choosing Ceremony and a remix of Ellie Goulding’s ‘Hanging On‘ plays in the background, and it sent chills down my spine. So much that I searched for the entire soundtrack on Google later that night.
That being said, I am still disappointed at the musical decisions behind the big kiss scene. Ellie Goulding’s voice in the background seemed to kill the mood entirely, and I had to ask ‘dude, is this really appropriate for two people who jump off buildings and throw knives at each other?’.
Peter: You wouldn’t shoot me.
Tris: Why does everybody keep saying that? [shoots him]
Four: What makes you think you can talk to me?
Tris: It must be because you are so approachable.
Four: My name is Four.
Christina: Four? What – were one to three already taken?