Directed by Neil Hamburger        
Starring Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet, Ashley Judd, Jay Courtney, Ray Stevenson, Tony Goldwyn, Maggie Q      
140 minutes      

A dystopian Chicago of the future. The few survivors of a terrible war a hundred years before have created a new society divided into five factions based on their virtues (Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless, Erudite). Each faction has its own role. Every year, all 16-year-olds take an aptitude test that will tell them to which faction they belong.

Beatrice Prior comes from an Abnegant family. Her test, however, reveals that she belongs to a rare and dangerous category called Divergent: people who have not one virtue, but several, making them uncontrollable. She has to choose one faction and she chooses Dauntless. It is the beginning of a dangerous path that will lead her to get to know herself and the truth about her world.

Divergent is the newest of the young adult trilogies (such as Twilight and Hunger Games) about a young outsider fighting against a militarized and oppressive society. Beatrice comes from a family of Abnegants, who are people dedicated to sacrificing themselves for the good of the others and for this reason their role is to govern.

However, Beatrice has always felt unable to conform to her family’s system of values. She feels that something in herself is “uncontrollable”. The test of her initiation to adult life confirms this and so Beatrice finds herself in a completely new life where she has to discern her true desires and fears. During the initiation she will choose the Dauntless faction, and this choice will take her into an unknown world, a world of secrets, danger and excitement.

Beatrice chooses a new name: Tris. However, she is a “divergent”, and her new name or even her new life in the Dauntless underground world won’t help her to hide her secret for long. This journey leads Tris to find out her own physical and spiritual potential. She realizes she has strength that she wasn’t aware of, new friendships to build, and new feelings even harder to figure out, like those she has for the mysterious guy, Four, one of her Dauntless trainers.

Divergent is clearly a movie about identity and the tumultuous years of adolescence as they pass from a safe family environment out into the world. But it is also a parable about being different (a mainstream concept nowadays), something that threatens a conformist society because it can rock the boat. This is the quality that makes Tris and other Divergents so special.

No wonder, then, that Divergent has been so successful among young people, both as a novel and a film. It also presents some unexpected aspects, like on the importance of family. Indeed Tris will discover this after choosing another faction over the one her family belongs to (“faction before blood” is the motto of this post-war Chicago society and Tris must honor her decision).

The defects of the movie are elsewhere. Explaining the rules of this dystopian world (written for those who didn’t read the book) takes away time from delving into what really matters in a film: the characters, their psychology and their bonds. Apart from Beatrice/Tris, her partner Four, and the villain Janine (the boss of Erudites), few others characters are explored and even Tris’ friends among the Dauntless lack memorable qualities. Her romance unfolds in fits and starts and lacks some of the interesting elements in the novel.

Divergent is obviously the first instalment of a trilogy, so some aspects of character development are postponed. Indeed, the final part of the movie is filled with action sequences which keep the narrative from focusing on important choices and losses — like the moment when Tris kills for the first time. Notwithstanding these shortcomings, Divergent is doing well at the box office and the first sequel, Insurgent, is scheduled for release next March.

Elements problematic to the vision: many violent scenes, a couple of sensual sequences.

Laura Cotta Ramosino is a story editor for Rai Uno, the national Italian broadcaster, and contributes to several magazines and websites about cinema and television.  

Laura Cotta Ramosino works for Cattleya, an Italian production company, as a creative producer and story editor for several television shows. She is also a regular contributor to the website Sentieri...