The Movie Date: Divergent

The Movie Date buttonThe 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. 

divergent movie poster


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.

Tris and Caleb - Abnegation
Ansel Elgort as Caleb and Shailene Woodley as Tris. Photo: Summit Entertainment

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).

kate winslet divergent
Kate Winslet as Jeanine Matthews Photo: Summit Entertainment

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.

Shailene Woodley as Tris Divergent
Shailene Woodley as Tris Photo: Summit Entertainment

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.

Four and Tris Divergent
Theo James (Four) and Shailene Woodley Photo: Summit Entertainment

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.

divergent theo james as four
Theo James as Four (aka Knife-Throwing Guy). Photo: Summit Entertainment

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.

tori and tris
Maggie Q as Tori and Shailene Woodley as Tris. Photo: Summit Entertainment

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.

Tris (Shailene Woodley), Christina (Zoe Kravitz) and Will (Ben Lloyd-Hughes) Photo: Summit Entertainment
Tris (Shailene Woodley), Christina (Zoe Kravitz) and Will (Ben Lloyd-Hughes) Photo: Summit Entertainment

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.

Divergent is in theaters now! Check the official movie site to find out when it’s playing in your area and to take your aptitude test. Divergent is rated PG-13 and runs 139 minutes.

Andrew sig


10 thoughts on “The Movie Date: Divergent

  1. It’s so cool to see the thoughts of someone who doesn’t have a previous reference point. I’m excited to see this, even though I’m still iffy on the actors. I can’t get over how old Four looks in this, but it does seem really good.

  2. BermudaOnion says:

    I haven’t read the book and don’t plan to see the movie but reading your q & a makes me wonder how anyone could think putting people in factions would stop fighting.

  3. Alicia♥ says:



    I went in with pretty low expectations because (let’s face it) the trailers weren’t all that good. I was thinking it’s going to be quite meh. AND IT JUST BLEW ME OFF MY FEET. AHH. Loved every bits and details, loved the pacing, the cast was fantastic. I had my doubts on Shailene as Tris as well, but she’s perfect. Once she’s on screen, I forgot that she’s Shailene. She’s Tris.


    (sorry for this mumble jumble heh just got very excited by this post and I agree largely to the answers!!)

    Alicia @ Summer Next Top Story

  4. Tammy Sparks says:

    Ii haven’t read the book either, Andrew, and I’m really looking forward to seeing it with both kids (who have read the books!)

  5. I actually like that you approach this movie from a curious, non-fan basis. It makes your points more objective. I just started reading the book today . . . because one of my students handed it to me and said “read it Ms. B.” and so I did.

    Even with the book, it takes some time to grapple the fraction concept. It’s a little hard to swallow, but for the sake of the story I think it’s possible.

    I’m curious to see the movie. Not sure if I’m on board.

    Good review. Leaves me open-minded.

    1. wordsforthepictures says:

      Yeah, I think the whole faction concept slowed the start of the film, and I don’t see any easy fix, either. What was so great about Hunger Games is the dead-simple concept—“we make kids fight one another to the death”—that you can then develop characters and subplots around. Still, the faction concept leads to a valuable message—all of us are good at more than one thing, and our futures are our own if we wish to claim them.

      I definitely had to stop thinking about the faction thing and just told myself, “here’s a very clever girl who impulsively joined the army and is having second thoughts.” Once I did that it was smooth sailing.

      1. Agreed. Even with Hunger Games I had a hard time buying into the author’s world. It was too simplistic and . . . awkward world building to say the least. But once I looked past it, the character and story plays out well in that world.

        Sometimes, you just have to buy it for the universe for the sake of the story.

  6. stacybuckeye says:

    I haven’t read the book, but do hope to see the movie, but will probably wait for it to be on tv.

  7. fishgirl182 says:

    I thought the movie was really well done and I liked it better than the book. The book wasn’t bad but Tris got on my nerves and I think Woodley’s portrayal of her really helped me like her more. And even though it was serious, there was some humor and I don’t think it took itself too seriously. Also, I love training sequences so I was down with that.

  8. […] enjoyed it quite a bit; I think I actually had more fun with it than the first film! As noted in my Divergent review, I found the whole faction premise somewhat cumbersome as it required so much explanation. And like […]

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