During an early scene in “Divergent,” the protagonist, Beatrice “Tris” Prior, is commanded to jump from a rooftop into an opening below, a large hole disappearing into darkness. She stands on the edge, wind whipping around her, hair pulling loose from her tightly wound bun. After a few deep breaths, she leaps.
Facing fear and discovering inner strength are themes that run throughout the film, which is based on the bestselling young adult book series by author Veronica Roth. The books feature a strong female protagonist growing up in a dystopic Chicago of the future, and have been compared to the popular series “The Hunger Games.”
The beginning of the film introduces the audience to a strictly structured society and its five factions, representing the virtues of intelligence, bravery, kindness, honesty and selflessness. When children come of age, they take a test to help them choose which faction they will join for the rest of their life. When Tris goes in for her test, however, things don’t go as planned and she is left with uncertainty, fear and a dangerous secret.
“The future belongs to those who know where they belong,” says one of the society’s leaders, portrayed by a clinical and relentless Kate Winslet.
Tris’ journey to find herself takes her through a variety of dangers, of which jumping from the roof is the least. There’s plenty of action and excitement, but the most interesting part is watching Tris challenge herself, push beyond her limits and discover who she is through experience, without the help of a test, society or anyone else. Her journey parallels one that every person goes through while seeking to establish identity and a place in the world.
Converting a book into a movie is always a risky endeavor, requiring the film to walk the razor-thin line between introducing newcomers to the world and pleasing fans of the original material. Fortunately, “Divergent” is able to do just that. For the most part, the plot remains faithful to the book, with a few embellishments thrown in for heightened cinematic conflict. Shailene Woodley does an excellent job of bringing Tris from shy and self-reserved to increasingly confident and determined in a believable way.
And those who enjoy this movie will be happy to know that there are two more books in the series, with films for each rumored to be in pre-production.