By Jessica Leafe
Based on the novel by Veronica Roth, the science fiction film Divergent is set in an alternate world where citizens live and work as part of one of five divisions, or “factions” within a walled-off society. The five factions are supposedly equal in importance and their roles are based upon a strange system of categorisation by stereotyped “values” –either honesty, bravery, knowledge, kindness or selfless humility. Upon entering adulthood, young people are tested for their aptitude to indicate where their abilities direct them, and then are given a choice as to which faction they wish to join for life, be it staying with their parents’ faction, or leaving forever to undertake a different role. The slogan, ‘Faction Before Blood”, aims to lead the people away from human nature and instinct, and keep their actions in line with the society’s overall benefit. The only inferior citizens are called the Factionless. These are the rejected and homeless, who fulfil no role and live upon the charity of the governing Abnegation, though regarded with suspicious distaste by most citizens.
The film revolves around Beatrice, a young woman native to Abnegation, but upon being tested for aptitude is revealed to have an inconclusive result, and is hushed into secrecy for fear of discovery. Her ability to think and act according to a range of disciplines is regarded as shameful and dangerous, and the people with this ‘condition’ are labelled ‘Divergents’. They are considered a threat to the safe conformity that keeps the society functioning according to its citizens’ places and rules.
Beatrice makes a sudden choice to join the Dauntless, a faction based upon bravery, whose role is protection and law enforcement. Although childishly attracted to the adventure of these train-skipping martial artists, her training there reveals the danger of obedient group mentality, and her need to survive and stay hidden is constantly in conflict with her personal values. When she and her trainer, Four, discover a genocidal plan to chemically overthrow free will, she is forced to make the life-and-death choices that come with all young adult action films.
Fans of The Hunger Games will really enjoy this film. For its genre, the high stakes are delivered quite realistically, thanks to the performance of Shailene Woodley. Her portrayal of Beatrice makes her not so much the clichéd action-girl in tight leather as the posters for the film might lead you to believe, but a young woman with all the human doubts, weaknesses and confusions of an average person approaching adulthood. Whereas The Hunger Games is a society overtly controlled under an enemy dictatorship, the power of the system in Divergent is more subtle, making the enemy harder to pinpoint, and the dangers more psychological to its characters. The film is violent (but not gory), and the production and action visually attractive. The cast also includes Academy Award winner Kate Winslet and British actor Theo James, who both naturally have to change to American accents when playing citizens of a fictional state. The final perils of the story’s young protagonist are compelling, and Divergent will be grippingly entertaining to its chosen audience.
Divergent opens in cinemas across Australia today.
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