Film Review: Divergent

by Sam Robinson

Rated M. Starring Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet. Directed by Neil Burger.

Stars: [3.5/5]

There’s no doubt that Divergent is unashamedly cashing in on the success of The Hunger Games.

Both these franchises are based on young adult novels, set in a dystopian futuristic location, have strong heroines in the lead role, involve brutality for survival… I could go on. With all this in mind, it would be easy to dismiss Divergent as a clone, but doing that would be a mistake. Divergent manages to stand on its own two feet.

As I mentioned, the film transports us to dystopian future, in this case Chicago, where the city landscape is eroding and society is split and pigeon-holed into five factions according to their individuals’ characteristic strength to keep things in order.

‘The future belongs to those who know where they belong.’

Beatrice – or Tris as she is nicknamed (Woodley) – grows up in the Abnegation faction, known as being “selfless”, or as you might be mistaken, “the faction wearing grey clothing”.

As Beatrice turns 16, she completes an aptitude test to discover what faction she should live in for the rest of her life. While the test result would normally assign her to a faction, Beatrice’s results are inconclusive, meaning that she’s “Divergent”: an independent thinker – and as we discover, an apparent danger to society. 

When it comes to the Choosing Ceremony – it’s pretty much the Sorting Hat – Beatrice chooses Dauntless, characterised by their bravery, and mad enthusiasm for parkour. She keeps her Divergent status a secret and does her best to fit in to the faction as they train to become fighters, soldiers, and police.

The best thing about Divergent is Shailene Woodley. In a world raving about Jennifer Lawrence (who is wonderful in her own right), Shailene too is a superstar. She’s believable and gives a strong performance. Also convincing is Beatrice’s beau, Four (James) who she meets at the Dauntless camp. Sure there’s a soppy scene or two between the pair, but you’ve got to expect that for a YA novel adaptation.

What lets down Divergent is its length. It’s just over two hours but it feels long – and it isn’t paced out well. The training at camp Dauntless goes on and on, and by the time we reach the climax, there’s already been three or four points where the action could have wrapped. The script isn’t brilliant and there are a few clunky moments along the way, too.

‘You can’t let them find out about you!’

The tension is strung along by Tris’ Divergent label. If her secret is revealed, she’ll be rejected by society, and left out in the cold, perhaps killed. In many ways, she embodies what people fear about Divergents – an independent thinker who has moral issues with the way society is being run (now we’re sounding like Hunger Games again). But Tris does everything to keep her identity secret. She doesn’t want the truth to be known.

For Christians, we find our identity in Christ. And sometimes, actually – often, we can feel a little like we want to fit in with the crowd and not let the truth be known of who we really are. There are places around the world where Christians are persecuted for their faith. But for us who live in places free from persecution, we are called to be bold about who we are.

In Matthew 5:14-16, Jesus says:

You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

We are Christ’s ambassadors in this world and we are called to be the light in a dark world. There’s no need to hide who we are, because our hope is secure in Jesus. And this is liberating! There’s no need to hide, or pretend we’re someone that we’re not.

Divergent is well worth watching, but I’m hoping the editor brings a sharper pair of scissors to the sequel. I’m giving it three-and-a-half out of five stars.

Divergent is out now in cinemas everywhere.

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