The Movie Date is a weekly feature where we discuss movies that may appeal to YA readers. Andrew is The Reading Date’s resident movie critic and this week he discusses Divergent directed by Neil Burger based on the book by Veronica Roth, and adapted by Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor.
Andrew has not read Divergent, so he went into the movie with a list of questions based on the trailer.
TEN QUESTIONS ON DIVERGENT:
First, a quick synopsis: In a city whose people are divided by ability into five factions, Tris (Shailene Woodley, The Descendents) learns that she’s actually multitalented; eg, divergent, a rare trait. She rejects her parents’ caregiver faction in favor of the Dauntless, a badass warrior class, but quickly realizes she’s in over her head. A brusque but kindly instructor named Four (Theo James, Downton Abbey) helps her survive and grow stronger, and together the two discover a dark conspiracy.
1. Supposedly this is a dystopian, which means broken future world. What’s broken, how did it get that way, and what’s the plan (by those in charge) to fix it?
We’re in a drought-stricken Chicago with many crumbling buildings. This is due to an unspecified war, and the city’s powers hope to avoid future fighting by putting everyone in factions.
2. Why are there only 4-5 major skill groups, and why in the ceremony are they all of precisely equal number (and color coded)?
This isn’t clear, especially as one faction seems to be all lawyers and another all judges. What factions contain the guy who makes the falafel or the ladies who spray perfume in the department stores? Because of the mannered formality of this setup (different faction members all dress in the same color), it took me a while to get caught up in this film.
3. Who is Kate Winslet’s character and why is she being such a beeyotch?
Winslet plays Jeanine, the head of the Erudite (lawyer) faction. She has a grudge against the rabble-rousing Abnegation caregivers’ faction and feels that the strength of multitalented Divergents pose her a threat (which they certainly do).
4. Is Tris’ daily life (or near future) so awful she has to escape by leaping from a moving train and then off the roof of a building?
This part of the trailer is a bit deceptive; she’s not really escaping. She formally joins the Dauntless faction, but because they’re so badass they get from place to place by jumping on and off moving commuter trains (stops are for wimps). She was raised in the kindly but dull Abnegation faction and yearns for more excitement. She finds it.
5. Does Tris find out she’s divergent (multi-talented) before or after these acrobatic stunts?
She finds out the day before, having tested by a very shocked Maggie Q (Nikita), who helps her by concealing the problematic results. The movie makes a big deal out of the fact that, even though everyone’s tested for faction ability, they’re free to choose whichever one they desire. Tris choosing Dauntless is a bit like Harry Potter joining Slytherin, sorting hat be screwed.
6. Of course she falls in love with the knife-throwing guy since they’re so gruff to each other initially (rom-com rules). But who’s the other guy (presumably a nice guy), since as YA it has to have a triangle?
Spoiler: no triangle! And not really time for one anyway. The long middle of the film involves the training of the Dauntless initiates, the bottom third of whom fail to qualify and are discarded as factionless (and homeless). Though the stakes for Tris’ failure aren’t very high, this part of the film is very enjoyable, resembling the Hunger Games’ training sessions somewhat. Tris must use both her Dauntless strength and her Erudite cleverness to solve the many tasks and overcome her fears.
7. Why is the knife-throwing guy so obsessed with his own massive tattoos? Vain much?
This is actually a very small (but charming) plot point. It’s also sort of a spoiler, so I’ll shut up about it. He’s not that obsessed really. And they are nice tats.
8. Maggie Q—friend or foe? And does she stay that way?
Friend. Small role. She works in the Dauntless tattoo parlor (those guys have everything) and quietly offers Tris some guidance as to her divergent status.
9. Why does this turn into a war? Are the fighting people an actual resistance movement or do they just want to be left alone?
They’re the Dauntless faction, as noted above. After being trained as soldiers in safe training exercises, they must act as soldiers, even against their will. Suddenly folks start dying and stuff starts getting real.
10. Shailene Woodley’s an amazing actress (Spectacular Now), but is she convincing as an ass-kicking action heroine?
Most assuredly. She does fine with the fighting and physical stuff, but it’s not really her great strength: again and again it’s Tris’ brilliance at solving problems creatively that saves her hide. Woodley has a very approachable quality that makes her characters easy to follow, and I really can’t picture any other actress in the role.
Overall this was a really fun picture. As noted it took me a while to get wrapped up in the faction concept, but once we got into Dauntless-land I was on board. The long training section felt a little long since it was the battle at the end that mattered more. Lucy tells me the film is very faithful to the book, so I can’t imagine fans of Roth’s novel being disappointed. Or anyone else of a mind to go see this, for that matter.