On the red carpet at Leicester Square’s Odeon, a few bookish fans are partly camouflaged in bright dresses that signify their affinity to Amity, one of the five factions of Divergent. Others are in black and white (Candor), blue (Erudite), and many have daring temporary tattoos that can only mean one thing -Dauntless.
It’s almost as if these moviegoers are not queuing to attend the European premiere of Divergent, directed by Neil Burger and adapted from the novel by Veronica Roth. Perhaps they are all 16-year-olds who have taken a test to determine their place in a dystopian world, after which they’ve chosen where they belong for the rest of their lives. Like Tris, the hero of Divergent.
Tris might seem to come from the Katniss school of tough resistance, but -perhaps with the exception of some angst-ridden train journey scenes -that’s where similarities to The Hunger Games end. Divergent presents a different, almost gentler political setup -at least, initially.
The story opens with Tris living (relatively) happily in the Abnegation faction, where she does her duty, wears muted grey colours and is (relatively) unquestioning about the way her world operates. But this tranquillity is shattered when Tris attends her aptitude test and gets an inconclusive result, leading to a daring choice to leave her family behind and join the train-jumping, thrill-seeking, punch-happy Dauntless faction. Dauntless are the city’s protectors, brave soldiers, and Tris could not be further from her upbringing among selfless carers. But the truth is that Tris does not fit completely in any one faction -she is Divergent, and this means terrible danger, in ways that Tris has yet to discover.
It is always a bit unnerving to see a book you’ve read translated for the big screen. Images and characters that have formed in your head over the course of several hundred pages are often rudely nudged aside, replaced by larger-than-life glossy actors and big-budget Hollywood sets. However, as adaptations go, this movie sticks fairly faithfully to the original story, and some scenes are hard to imagine any other way.
Divergent is not a short novel, so it was clear that something would have to go. We find out less about some secondary characters -Christina and Will’s relationship is only implied in the film, Caleb has a smaller role and Al’s story is not as nuanced. Tiny differences include the way that Amity wear distressed oranges instead of premiere-carpet reds, and the aptitude test replaces bookish cheese with a graphic slab of meat. There are other variations, especially towards the end of the film, but nothing takes away from the main thrust of the story’s dystopian drama and troubled romance.
If anything, the teen-relevant message of ‘dare to be yourself, even if you don’t fit in’ is more explicit in the film than the book (together with the more sinister ‘actually, watch out for this fitting-in lark altogether if you want to stay in control of your own mind’, and the moral undertones of ‘it is brave to be selfless, and vice-versa’).
This is a film with a high proportion of strong female roles. Kate Winslet plays a stern, brainy baddie, Ashley Judd displays the soft bravery of Tris’s mum, Zoe Kravitz is convincing as Christina and Maggie Q is a cool Tori.
Add into the mix the appeal of Shailene Woodley, whose performance as Tris exudes wide-eyed intelligence and brave fear, and Theo James as Four, the tough-and-tortured-yet-lovely guy-with-hidden-depth who provides a solid romantic partner, and combine it with a heart-pumping soundtrack, an action-packed ending and the promise of an intriguing sequel, and what do you get?
Divergent â€“ a pacy, thrilling blockbuster of a film.
Divergent opens in the UK on April 4 2014. Thanks to HarperCollins Children’s Books for tickets to the European premiere.
Luisa Plaja lives in Devon and she is the author of several novels for teenagers, which is partly why she was invited to the Divergent premiere in the first place. Find out more about her books at luisaplaja.co.uk.
- Dystopian drama and troubled romance: Divergent review - April 3, 2014