‘Divergent’ (2014). Directed by Neil Burger.
America at an unspecified point in the future. Siblings separated in tragic circumstances instigated by the Government. A female lead character; young, independent and attractive. Sound familiar? No, this isn’t The Hunger Games; this is the latest movie in the newly popular “Young Adult dystopian films” genre – Divergent.
Based on the novel by Veronica Roth, Divergent is the story of Tris, a 16-year-old girl who doesn’t quite fit into the rigid structure of post-apocalyptic Chicago’s society. It appears to be a typical coming of age tale, but Tris’s journey of self-discovery is hindered by the fact that if she reveals who (or what) she truly is, the corrupt Faction Leaders will kill her. Naturally there is a romantic sub-plot (because what right minded girl would see a film without super-hot guys in it, right?) between Tris and the mysterious Four – an overly brooding, slightly emotionally abusive heartthrob.
If this sounds like a recipe for success, it’s mostly because it’s based on a formula that has already proven to be effective. However, if The Hunger Games was a deliciously well-written and profitable Sunday Roast, then ‘Divergent’ is Monday’s leftovers; still tasty, but it reminds you of the previous night’s feast and feels a little bit disappointing in comparison. Nonetheless you cannot ignore the financial success these leftovers produce – according to Box Office Mojo (boxofficemojo.com) the opening night of Divergent raked in an estimated $22.8 million, and although this doesn’t compete with The Hunger Games’s $67.3 million, it still makes Divergent one of the best debuts in its genre. However, all this success raises the question ‘why are films portraying rebellion suddenly so popular?’
Divergent does have its problems;there are some questionable directorial choices, a few dodgy casting decisions and couple of pretty poor performances from actors. Put all this aside, however, and it’s not a bad film. Take Kate Winslet’s chilling performance as the cold and calculated tyrant Jeanine, which would make even the keenest supporters of the right wing feel awkward. The character’s matter-of-fact and emotionless approach to murder and her general disgust at human nature, is at the very least uncomfortable to watch. As an audience member it becomes very easy to be drawn into the protagonists’ attempts to stop Jeanine’s authoritarian regime.
Herein lies the success of Young Adult dystopian novels/films. In a time when young people are becoming increasingly politically involved, they allow us to experience the thrill of rebellion without having to leave the comfort of our own home. It’s a form of escapism at its finest. This is especially important given the fact that the majority of the protagonists in these stories are teenage girls. This demographic has been left neglected and powerless for so long, it is a relief to finally see role models such as Tris and Katniss in the mainstream media.