Mar 25, 2014

Good old-fashioned young-adult storytelling.


Grade: B

Director: Neil Burger (Limitless)

Screenplay: Evan Daugherty (Killing Season), Vanessa Taylor (Hope Springs), from Veronica Roth novel.

Cast: Shailene Woodley (Descendants), Theo James (Underworld: Awakening)

Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 139 min.

by John DeSando

“You're different. You don't fit into a category. They can't control you. They call it Divergent.” Tori (Maggie Q)

Does Divergent diverge from the YA formula established by the Twilight series and fattened by the Hunger Games franchise? Not much. But I have to admit I was carried along by the interesting sci-fi story and solid performances of lead Shailene Woodley (Tris) and Theo James (Four).  In other words, my intellect was teased by the allegory and my heart by the true romance.  Divergent is just good old-fashioned young-adult storytelling that engages adults and teens at the same time.

Faced with making a choice of what category of five the teen chooses to belong to for a lifetime (Erudite, Candor, Amity, Dauntless, and Abnegation), Tris chooses the protector group Dauntless, while knowing she doesn’t fit any (that’s why she’s “Divergent”) group. Already you can see the author, Veronica Roth, has allegory in mind, viz., a caste system that freezes people forever in a category (surely a great fear of teenagers) and a social order that allows similarities to flourish but individuality not.

The Katniss of Divergent, Tris (shortened from Beatrice, an allusion, perhaps, to Dante’s guide into hell), is not as glamorous as Katniss (but then that’s relative since Jennifer Lawrence is not a classic beauty either), nor as skilled initially, but she has a reserve and humility, as well as interior demons, that can endear her to the audiences’ sense of their own flawed humanity.

Like other young adult fiction, Divergent plays to teen fears and a societal concern about stifling individuality. By overcoming the former and becoming who she is meant to be for the latter, Tris embodies the ideals of a healthy democracy and individuality. And as Woodley plays her, a normal teen with normal hang-ups and some abnormal potential. Just don’t buy into the airbrushed posters with her perfect bod—she’s only fairly good looking and fairly flawed.

If that’s not enough to get you to this actioner, see Kate Winslet play a bad Erudite named Jeanine—she’s quite believable and quite different from her carefully framed persona of a simpering goodie.  Wait. Wait. She is expressing her individuality as a talented actress.  She’s 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.” Jeanine (Kate Winslet)

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at