I catch my breath as I gaze upon what used to be the lively city of Chicago. Run-down buildings and ruins have replaced the shiny skyscrapers that once defined the windy city, and it takes me a moment to register that I am no longer sitting in a packed movie theater. Instead I have been transported into the future, a dystopian world, the one of “Divergent.”
Originally a novel written by Veronica Roth, this film is set in a dystopian world that is recovering from a war that wreaked havoc across the country. In an effort to maintain peace and order, five factions were established, each epitomizing a specific character trait. This categorization is believed to stifle independent thought and create a cohesive system of sustainable harmony that will last throughout the ages. “Divergent” follows the story of a sixteen year-old Abnegation girl, Beatrice Prior, and her journey in discovering who she is and what she is capable of.
Spearheading the film’s takeover of the box office is the leading lady herself, Shailene Woodley, who brings the character of Beatrice, or “Tris” Prior to life. Best known for her role in “The Descendants” and other independent films such as “The Spectacular Now,” I was skeptical about whether or not she would be able to live up to the daunting task of taking such a strong and empowered protagonist from the books and translating it onscreen.
My skepticism, however, proved to be unwarranted, as Woodley takes on this massive franchise with grace and poise. Her interpretation of Tris is spot on, as she is able to strike the perfect balance between strength and vulnerability. From her indecisive demeanor at the Choosing Ceremony to her resilient and defiant spirit at Dauntless initiation, Woodley depicts the complex character development of Tris, transitioning from a timid girl to a fearless warrior effortlessly. Despite my initial reservations, Woodley is able to hold her own in this film and emerge as a powerful symbol of defying conformity and embracing individuality.
Of course, this film would not have been complete without Tris’ love interest, Four, played by Theo James. Ditching the wig and English accent from his brief role on “Downton Abbey,” James brings a strong male presence to the table. Although much younger and boyish in the book, James puts his own twist on the role of Four, portraying a masculinity and maturity that is refreshing to see. James juggles the task of being a strict instructor and lovestruck boy well, maintaining Four’s physicality and sensitivity consistently throughout the film.
Both Woodley and James are able to ignite a love story onscreen that digresses from the stereotypical romance, as their relationship blossoms in a believable and organic way. Stolen glances between the two performers and subtle smiles contrasted with the harsh and gritty environment they find themselves in establishes the authenticity of their affection for one another.
Now, I will be honest and say I do not usually pay close attention to the music played during films, but this movie completely captured me with its powerful and enthralling music choice. While there are numerous artists that contributed to the films overall superb musical quality, Ellie Goulding really stole the show. The ethereal and unique tone of Goulding’s voice and her beautiful lyrics was able to lend a hand to the film’s message of independence and strength. Her songs such as “Dead in the Water” and “Beating Heart” helped enhance the pivotal scenes in the film, imbuing them with feeling and emotion that only music can provide.
Many have compared this film to other successful franchises such as “The Hunger Games” and “Twilight.” I however, don’t see the similarity. While both films contain their own unique qualities, “Divergent” sets itself apart with its multi-faceted plot and characters, captivating music, and profound themes. Although it doesn’t teach you how to fall in love with a vampire or survive an arena full of murderous teenagers, “Divergent” encourages you to diverge from mediocrity and embrace your individuality, a positive lesson worth learning.
RECOMMENDED: ‘Divergent’ is an action-packed film that hits on all notes.