Rated R. Running time: 2 hours 18 min.
Our content advisories (1-10): Violence 5; Language 1; Sex/Nudity 2.
Our star rating (1-5): 2.5
Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.
Romans 12:2 J.B. Phillips Version)
Another sci-fi dystopian society tale, this is the first of three films to be based on Veronica Roth’s popular trilogy, the second already being in production. The story is set in a post apocalyptic Chicago, where16 year -old Beatrice Prior (Woodley) and her twin brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort), are at the milestone at which they must undergo a series of tests and decide which of the five divisions (called “factions”) of society they are to join based on their personality traits most appropriate to a faction–Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Erudite, and Dauntless. Currently their parents (Ashley Judd and Tony Goldwyn) are leaders in the first faction. The choice cannot be revoked, so the pressure on teens must be far greater than experienced by today’s youth facing their S.A.T.s.
Members of Dauntless are trained as soldiers to protect the republic; Abnegation members tend to charities, such as feeding the poor; Erudites advance technology and science; Amity folk are farmers who toil in the fields just outside the huge fence surrounding the land side of the city; and the systems’ judges come from Candor.
When Beatrice undergoes her tests, involving drug-induced hallucinations, her upset tester Tori (Maggie Q) whispers to her that she fits into several categories rather than just one, that she is a rare but dreaded “Divergent,” and if discovered, would be banished to the “factionless” crowd forced to eke out a living on the dangerous streets of the city. “You’re different. You don’t fit into a category. They can’t control you. They call it Divergent. You can’t let them find out about you.”
Shaken, Beatrice does not tell anything to her curious brother, and at the public ceremony of choosing, she decides upon Dauntless, to the consternation of her parents and brother. This means she must cut off virtually all contact with them, the system’s motto being, “Faction before family!” There follows a long sequence situated in a subterranean “Pit” where two Dauntless leaders—the ruthless Eric (Jai Courtney) and mysterious Four (Theo James)—are her trainers. Being smaller, Tris (her chosen new name) does not do as well at first, her name for a long time being listed in red on the wall chart. All those who fail to raise their score will be ejected, destined to live as exiles among the factionless. How she struggles, especially during the second phase of the regimine, which is centered more on her mental capabilities, takes up considerable screen time—too much according to the complaints of those faulting the film.
The last action-packed portion finds Tris and Four, not only romantically entangled, but also involved in a rebellion against the tyrannical system. Kate Winslet plays Jeanine Matthews, a manipulative leader of the Erudite Faction who plans to take over the government from the selfless Abnegations. She encounters Tris several times, telling her when she learns that the young woman is a Divergent, “The system removes the threat of anyone exercising their independent will. Divergents threaten that system. It won’t be safe until they’re removed.”
Although similar in some ways to The Hunger Games and Harry Potter, the envisioned society is more complex, and not quite as believable as in the case of the other two films. Still, I found it more enjoyable than the low ratings given it by many would lead one to expect. Tris is more believable that the society of the film. As an ordinary girl she does not score well in the physical training, but through determination, practice, and brainpower, she triumphs. She is the kind of heroine we can root for, and which I would think many adolescent girls can identify with. As in virtually all sci-fi stories, there seems to be no trace left of the church or religious faith. Che Chicago where I spent my seminary years was full of churches of all stripes, as well as synagogues, mosques, and temples. So where did they all go? Swept away by the super rationalists who created the world of the Factions?