Popular Novel Adaptation Diverges From Banal Genre Norms

At this point, it is fairly evident that the comic book movie boom of the 2000s, while still a very lucrative industry, is passing the torch to films based on fantasy and science fiction novels in the 2010s.


“Harry Potter” and “Twilight” paved the way for the trend up until their final chapters debuted in 2011 and 2012 respectively. Hugely successful series such as “The Chronicles of Narnia” and “The Lord of the Rings” are still adding films to their franchises and banking off the success of the genre. The franchise that currently holds the throne is Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games,” which will see its third installment hit the big screen later this year. And now, the newest addition to the movement is “Divergent,” based on the first of author Veronica Roth’s trilogy of novels, and while it is far from perfect, it lays sufficient groundwork for the next two films.

The film has garnered many comparisons to “The Hunger Games,” and for good reason. Both stories center on a young female protagonist in a dystopian future who has reached a stage in her life where she must perform in physically rigorous and dangerously controlled environments to determine her fate, all packaged with a love story. The similarities are undeniable, but once you’ve seen both and familiarized yourself with the different worlds of Katniss Everdeen and Beatrice Porter (the “Divergent” heroine), it’s no longer difficult to distinguish the two.

“Divergent” takes place in post-apocalyptic Chicago, where citizens are separated into factions based on their predispositions. The five factions are Abnegation (selflessness), Amity (kindness), Candor (honesty), Erudite (intelligence) and Dauntless (bravery). Each citizen is born into their parents’ faction, and takes a test when they turn 16 which tells them which faction they are best suited for. From there, they are able to decide whether they prefer to stay in their native faction or attempt to transfer to the one they are best predisposed to.

The film follows Beatrice Porter (Shailene Woodley), a member of Abnegation who learns from her test that she is a “divergent,” meaning she belongs to three different groups, a fact she is warned to never tell anyone about Beatrice chooses to leave Abnegation and pursue acceptance into Dauntless, where she meets Four (Theo James). Trouble arises when conflicts between factions force her to choose between protecting her secret and protecting her family.

Woodley’s portrayal of Beatrice is an effective one. Her timidity and big heart show the characteristics that make her a divergent, one viewers can care and root for.

“Divergent” is tasked with the difficult job of introducing viewers to the rules of this new world, as well as the characters and their stories. In all, this makes for a film that feels long and clunky in parts. In between the lagging spots, though, is some great and tense action (for example, the scenes depicting Beatrice going up against simulations of her worst fears as part of a test to enter Dauntless). As a whole, “Divergent” will leave viewers somewhat dissatisfied, but on board for a sequel in which the stage is already set and exposition isn’t the biggest priority.