It’s surely a sign that you’re getting old when you can sit through a film like Divergent (2014) – the new dystopian adventure based on the bestselling young adult book by Veronica Roth – and realise that you just didn’t get it. Though visually impressive, this sci-fi extravaganza, directed by Neil Burger and starring Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet and Ashley Judd, lacks the soul to make the viewer really care. In a post-apocalyptic future the world is divided into factions and living in what remains of the city of Chicago. ‘Dauntless’ is the group assigned to protect the others. It’s also the group which plucky protagonist Tris (Woodley) is desperate to be a part of.
Tris, however, is special, and her ‘secret’ if discovered could ostracise her from society. Things used to actually happen in children’s books – which is still really all young adult books are (and hence the films based on them) – with usually some degree of variation and originality in story and plot. Unfortunately, since the dawn of Harry Potter, many burgeoning teen franchises have attempted to follow suit, usually resulting in little more than bland imitations. Enter Divergent. Take for instance the group of kids, including Tris, from the ‘outside world’ who enter the school-like training ‘academy’ for Divergents. Or the selection process for the said academy – involving a ritual akin to using Hogwarts’ mythical Sorting Hat.
From the academy’s cavernous dining hall and school bully cliques, to the dark forces who want to get rid of anyone they see as troublesome and inferior, much of Divergent appears to be a futuristic Harry Potter in all but name. A large chunk of the proceedings involve the training procedures Divergent’s new recruits have to go through in order to be accepted into the faction. Agreed, this clearly requires acknowledgement as it’s integral to proceedings. However, its apparent predilection to dwell lovingly on a heightened degree of physical violence towards Tris and her friend Christina seems at best unnecessary and at worst misogynistic. These factors – along with the woeful underuse of the film’s real star wattage of Winslet (as a wonderfully smarmy baddie) and Judd (as Tris’ mother) – make Burger’s Divergent of little interest to anyone beyond a teen audience.