Days of future caste

Simon Thomson
CERT 12a
Three Stars
IN DIVERGENT a special young woman battles against a repressive society to achieve her true potential. Based on the first in a series of “Young Adult” novels by Veronica Roth, and with a sequel already confirmed, Divergent is unoriginal but sophisticated, engaging and surprisingly fun.

I don’t wish to reinforce stereotypes or anything, but if there’s one thing we can all agree about teenage girls, it’s that they love futuristic dystopias. Set in Chicago 100 years after a devastating war, society has been organised according to a caste system, rooted in character archetypes: smart, kind, honest, selfless, or brave. Unlike The Hunger Games – with which comparisons are unavoidable – the world of Divergent is, at first glance, appealing; A Brave New World to The Hunger Games’ 1984. But it becomes ever less so as the layers are pulled away.

Tris (Shailene Woodly) is the daughter of senior civil servants, and she doesn’t really fit into any single faction, which is a problem in a society where categorisation and conformity are key. Keeping her “divergence” a secret, she joins a faction of soldier and police officer adrenaline junkies called Dauntless. There she makes friends, jumps off trains and buildings, meets a cute boy and overcomes a series of predictable challenges to become accepted even though she’s an outsider. She also uncovers a conspiracy threatening to overthrow the social order (which at this stage in the series is still a bad thing to do, though that will probably change in later instalments).

Woodly is a credible, likeable lead and the supporting cast is good too, especially Tris’ new best friend, played by a sparky Zoë Kravitz (whose father Lenny plays a similar role in The Hunger Games), and Jai Courtney who gives her primary antagonist a subtle but playfully sadistic air. The real treat though is the chief conspirator, Kate Winslet, who it’s fun to see being bad, even if her delivery of lines like “The future belongs to those who know where they belong”, isn’t sufficiently flamboyant.

The film suffers from a modest budget, which means that everything looks smaller and less impressive than it probably should. It is also a little too long, giving the impression that some scenes are there more for fans of the books than to advance the narrative. And it seems derivative in a way that flies in the face of its championing of individuality. Nevertheless, the strong plot, simple but vivid characters and competent acting make for an engaging cinematic experience.