Divergent (2014): “If you don’t fit into a category, they can’t control you.”

divergent_poster_hqIt’s yet another young adult fiction dystopian future fantasy turned into a film series! Divergent (2014, dir. Neil Burger) is based on the popular trilogy of novels by Veronica Roth, and stars Shailene Woodley as Tris, a special young woman with hidden abilities. Its synopsis is as follows:

In a world divided by factions based on virtues, Tris learns she’s Divergent and won’t fit in. When she discovers a plot to destroy Divergents, Tris and the mysterious Four must find out what makes Divergents dangerous before it’s too late.

I must firstly say that I haven’t read the book that this is based on, and therefore can’t comment on whether the film is a faithful interpretation of the original source material, or whether it’s a good adaptation at all. What this film has reminded me of, however, is just how easy it is to alienate viewers who watch a film and haven’t read its original source material. That is, I finally understand how people who didn’t read the Harry Potter books felt when they watched the films. Divergent starts with a big chunk of exposition about the different factions and their responsibilities and interactions, and whilst this was intriguing, it still didn’t make up for the confusion and unanswered questions that followed. For example, why does everyone want to join the faction of Dauntless, when all they seem to do is jump around on trains and get tattoos and get yelled at? Something is missing that perhaps the book is able to explain better.

It’s not that the story is flawed per se, it’s just that the storytelling doesn’t live up to its promises. It starts with a really interesting premise, but it seems like the first two thirds of the film focuses on Tris training to become a proper member of her new faction in a predictable fashion, and the final third involves a middling conflict and conclusion that almost makes you ask, “Is that it?”. I’ve read so much internet hype about the book, so many teenage girls crying abut how amazing and thrilling it is, that I can only assume that the film is a poor adaptation. Because if this is what the book is like, then people need to get on some better literature, stat. And I hate to be one of the people saying it (because many people have made the same point), but The Hunger Games is better than this.

What is great about Divergent, though, is that it gives Shailene Woodley the time and space to show off the impressive acting talents that she’s been getting so much attention for lately. Her signature acting style seems to be all about showcasing a balance between subtle moments, and raw, intense emotions. This shines through against the awkward performances around her; characters which are either poorly explored, or just awkwardly acted, such as Tris’ friend Christina who’s played by the generally deadpan-slash-emotionally-dead Zoë Kravitz. Whilst Theo James is certainly very nice to look at as stoic love interest Four, the romance element of this story is too creepy and emerges too abruptly to ever take seriously. Again, this might be better explored in the book, but it doesn’t really work here.

divergent-screencaps2-08

Divergent consists of some really stellar creative elements, and also some mediocre ones. Firstly, the costume design is fantastic, with superb attention to detail. I loved looking at the costumes of all of the factions and seeing how they differed from one another not just in terms of their general colour scheme, but also the construction of the garments that also told a story about the faction to which an individual belongs. The direction and cinematography is generally quite good, but the most visually interesting parts are the ones where Tris is confronting her fears and being tested to see which faction she should belong to. There are some really interesting camera angles and movements that make the film feel less “young adult fiction”-y and more artistic. Outside of these moments, the direction is just standard and succumbs to action film conventions that can make it feel a bit generic. Finally, the soundtrack has some really great musical choices, but during some moments of drama and/or action the music sounds like mid-2000s synth pop for some reason and it was slightly confusing.

I’ve previously spoken on this blog of something that I’ll now be calling “the vacuum test“; sometimes with a film that isn’t so good, it’s worthwhile to start cleaning the house whilst watching it, so that you don’t feel as if any time is wasted. If you have to clean the house whilst watching a film, it isn’t necessarily a good film, but at least you achieved something productive in the mean time. Whilst watching Divergent, I washed all the dishes in my kitchen sink, and then I cleaned the stove top, and then I cleaned the oven. It wasn’t until the final third of the film when I decided to start watching properly again, just in time to be kind of underwhelmed with where the film ended up.

I didn’t have too many expectations for this film so it’s difficult to say whether I was disappointed by it. I think Divergent is one of those films where if you haven’t read the original source material, it’s difficult to really ‘get’ it or understand the hype surrounding it. Shailene Woodley is quite wonderful in this, and it was interesting to see her play an action heroine as opposed to a purely emotion-led role. I just realised that I totally forgot that Kate Winslet is in this. But the fact that I haven’t mentioned her until now is a good indication of just how memorable she is. Divergent is a flawed film, but as aforementioned, if you need to get things done around the house it makes for some good background noise with an intriguing premise.

3/5
Watch the trailer here.

Watch this film on Amazon!

35 comments

  1. Sounds LAME!!!

    #vacuums

    1. I tend to start vacuuming and washing the dishes when I i’m reading The IPC. Guess it fails the vacuum test.

      #burn

      1. This is actually a fail because:

        -we all know there is no carpet in Ireland and

        -we know YOU don’t use dishes or utensils

        1. You’re right – i live in a stonehut with a fire in the middle. I catch small mammals and use their skins as slippers for when i’m traversing the rocky landscape that is my home country

          1. I KNEW IT!!!!

    2. Totes lame! If you feel compelled to wash the dishes then all hope is generally lost, not sure how I could have coped with it in the cinema.

  2. Even Transformers 2 wouldn’t get me to do housework. Never!

    Is it wrong that i just want to watch this for Woodley in a tight costume?

    I’m so very lonely

    1. Haha! Transformers 2 is pretty bad though. I think I’d rather scrub the tiles than watch it. Maybe there should be a scale or cartesian coordinate graph (or whatever it’s called) illustrating the shittiness of films compared to the effort needed for certain household tasks. One day I’ll make that!

      Woodley is actually stunningly gorgeous in this, so no, it’s not wrong! Embrace your appreciation of that beautiful specimen!

  3. Great review Anna!

    “I think Divergent is one of those films where if you haven’t read the original source material, it’s difficult to really ‘get’ it or understand the hype surrounding it.” – to be honest, I have read all the books and I was confused as to what the hell was happening at the best of times, they didn’t do a particularly grand job of this…

    I also really didn’t want to end up saying The Hunger Games is better. I was hoping for another set of films that was good like the others… instead we got this.

    Vacuum test… I love that!

    1. Thanks Zoe! That’s funny that it didn’t really make sense to a book reader! They must have messed up somewhere. I’m interested to read the book though to see to what extent! Gotta love that vacuum test. 🙂

      1. Anytime. The books are a pretty good read, I really liked them at any rate (even if two had some rocky moments for me). Would love to hear what you think of them should you ever get to them!

  4. I was expecting this to be really bad considering that the books were very average but it was alright.

    1. Everyone I’ve heard from has been gushing about how amazing the books are so to hear an alternative opinion is very refreshing! I’m interested to read the books to assess the hype. After this film I would be interested to see what happens to the characters, so I suppose it’s successful in some sense!

  5. Haha! The vacuum test! Love it! Sometimes if I’m bored while watching a movie I’ll start doing jumping jacks or other dubious exercises. It’s a shame that this series isn’t much good; it’s written by someone who went to the same university as I did! Now Veronica Roth is worth like $20 million, insanity. So now I just need to write a Hunger Games ripoff and I’ll be set, right?

    1. Exercise during a film is such a good idea! It would probably wake you right up if you were really bored. I’ve often thought about writing some crappy supernatural romance or dystopian future young adult story too. Imagine the potential for dollar-making, considering the standard set by other authors. If Stephenie Meyer can do it, anyone can do it! 😀

  6. Feels like mostly every other young adult novel adaptation ever made, but still okay. I guess. Good review.

    1. Thanks! 🙂 It definitely had a very generic feeling about it!

    1. Haha! Definitely don’t blame you for that. 🙂

      1. I still enjoyed reading your review though, g knows i need the writing tips

  7. I thought this was going to be terrible so put of watching it. I actually watched it on the plane in the hope it would put me to sleep. I actually really enjoyed it though. Woodley is great like you say. These young adult flicks seem to be getting better.

    1. You know, it would probably be a good film to watch on a plane! Simple-ish story, nice to look at, some action to keep you awake. I really like Shailene Woodley too. Interested to see what else is going to be turned into a film out of all these dystopian future young adult novels!

  8. I didn’t know it was part of a trilogy so I was quite surprised when the movie ended….still quite enjoyed it.

    1. Even though I thought this was just okay overall, I would actually be interested to see the rest of the series!

  9. Nice review! Having read 2 of the 3 books, Divergent was a nice adaptation. I can’t remember how faithful it was because at some point I think readers just get picky, but I thought it did pretty well. My take on everyone going to Dauntless is that they are all bored out of their minds, and that faction is supposed to represent bravery and taking risks – so naturally most people want to do that stuff in their youth especially Tris. Shailene & Theo make me excited to see the sequel.

    1. Thanks Katy! 🙂 That’s interesting with regard to Dauntless, I wish they’d portrayed a bit more of that in the film! I would definitely be interested to see any other films in the series to see where Tris ends up!

  10. Too funny I watched it this weekend too! I re-watched part of the second day just to have something on in the background while I cleaned. Totally a vacuuming day movie!

    1. The vacuum test proves itself yet again! 😀

      1. I am totally going to use that! And tag you in that since it’s your term! lol 🙂

  11. […] are you if you dont fit in in divergent The world of Divergent (2014) consists of a number of Factions that each individual must fit into. If you don’t fit […]

  12. Marvelous content, thanks a lot !!

  13. Hahaa I am applying the vacuum test from now on!

    1. It’s a good test, I do it all the time! 😀

  14. In a world divided by factions based on virtues, Tris learns she’s Divergent and won’t fit in. When she discovers a plot to destroy Divergents, Tris and the mysterious Four must find out what makes Divergents dangerous before it’s too late. Must watch.

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