In attempting to engage the lucrative teenage market, a film could do worse than conclude its opening monologue with the line, "Everybody knows where they belong... except me". "Oh my god," say those teenagers, "that's basically what I think! I need to get all my friends and see this movie eighteen more times!"
There's a reason more than 17 million copies of the novel by Veronica Roth are in print worldwide with no signs of slowing down. Sure, there's the plot about a post-apocalyptic, dystopian world in need of courageous teenagers to save humanity, but at its heart, Divergent remains a simple story about teenage isolation and the possibility that a cute boy might actually like you.
Set 'after the war' (that's as much detail as we're given), the survivors of this Chicago 2.0 have instituted a new form of social order to ensure the sustained peace. The community is divided into five factions: carers, pacifists, protectors, thinkers and truth-speakers. When the teenagers come of age, they're subjected to a series of tests to determine their factional predisposition, and while 99 percent of them fall clearly into one group or another, every so often a 'divergent' individual comes along whose skills and feelings cross into multiple factions. A simple but boring version of this idea would be: In a world of left-handers and right-handers, some people are ambidextrous. And then those ambidextrous people are hunted down and murdered.
The problem with divergents, you see, is that they can't be controlled. They're a threat to the system because they don't play by the rules. So now, in addition to cute boys and isolation, there's a heady dose of 'screw you mum — you can't tell me what to do!'
The divergent in this instance is 15-year-old Beatrice (Shailene Woodley), a daughter of two 'Abnegation' parents who dreams of being one of the 'Dauntless' caste, the fearless (if also reckless) group charged with maintaining order in the city. But some, like Erudite leader Jeanine (Kate Winslet), believe the system is broken, and as the balance of power begins to shift with dictatorial-like qualities, 'Tris' finds herself having to choose between faction and family.
Woodley is the standout in Divergent; an undeniably talented young actress whose performances since The Descendants have shown both range and maturity beyond her years. She commands attention in every scene and convinces as the conflicted heroine who prefers not to pull the trigger but can and will without hesitation if necessary. Around her is a substantial supporting cast, including Ashley Judd, Jai Courtney and Zoe Kravitz, with Theo James as her sufficiently attractive and brooding love interest, Four.
In the end it's all very Hunger Games Lite, mixed in with a bit of Brave New World for good measure. With much of the film centred around Tris's training instead of any actual conflict, it suffers from a lag that struggles to shake free until well into the second hour, by which time what action there is feels rushed and unsubstantiated. Fans of the books will be happy, especially given the film's fidelity to the material; however, newcomers may struggle to get on board.
Want to live near this spot?
Check out our handy Neighbourhood Guides to find out how you can.
11A Oxford Street, Paddington