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Review of 'Divergent': Another dystopian coming-of-age story

Crédit photo : Shailene Woodley in "Divergent"
Review of 'Divergent': Another dystopian coming-of-age story
And you thought you were nervous about getting your driver’s license. In the alternate universe of Divergent, 16-year-olds must choose a faction that they will belong to for the rest of their life—and, as a result, their career path, neighbourhood, friends, whether they will ever see their families again, even their clothing style. Oh, and when they decide, they have to cut their palm open in order to drip some of their blood into the chosen vessel. “Faction before blood,” the teenagers are told.

The latest and perhaps most likely to succeed Hunger Games copycat, this science fiction flick is based on the first book of a bestselling YA trilogy by Veronica Roth. It’s set in a dystopian Chicago, where director Neil Burger shot the film. Just as the districts of Hunger Games are replaced with the factions of Divergent, Katniss is reborn here as Tris (Shailene Woodley), an out-of-place young woman plunged into a new cutthroat environment where she must fight bravely and trick the system.

Factions are based on facets of personality: brave, selfless, intelligent, peaceful or honest; one is expected to embody one, and one only. When Tris realizes that her personality does not fit exclusively into any faction, and is thus a “divergent,” she picks the “dauntless” (brave) faction and goes into what amounts to military training; the dauntless work as soldiers, police or in other fighting jobs. With the help of her trainer and new crush, Four (Theo James), Tris eventually attempts to use her divergent abilities to stop the “erudite,” or intelligent, faction leader (Kate Winslet) from overthrowing the government.

The story feeds off the universal fear of being persecuted for discovering and revealing who you “truly are,” the uncertainty and isolating angst of abandoning childhood for adulthood. This is, in essence, a dark nerd-at-new-school flick: Tris is an underdog who trades in drab clothes for faux leather, tries to make friends and flirts with the cute older boy. The fact that Divergent is brought to life by real young women who are at turning points lends this a sincerity: Roth was 21 when she sold the book and when Divergent producer Lucy Fisher started promoting it alongside her studio’s Twilight franchise. Woodley is 22 and, after appearing in critically approved indie films The Descendants and The Spectacular Now, is constantly compared to Jennifer Lawrence (who Woodley emailed for advice when she got the role of Tris).

Not surprisingly, Divergent works best as a metaphor for the post-college fears of Millennials. “The future belongs to those who know where they belong,” says Winslet’s Jeanine. Tris is told to pick a faction, excel, be happy; not belonging to a faction means living on handouts, homelessness and social ostracization. The truly haunting metaphor that Divergent reaches towards—the suggestion that modern specialization could breed fascism—is clumsily approached, if genuinely thought provoking.

Although Divergent celebrates the diversity of human nature, the film plays out as a generic and recycled story. Like any photocopy, this is fuzzier than the original, but that doesn’t really matter, as Hunger Games fans will still love this proxy while they wait for the next installment of their beloved franchise. And Woodley is a pleasure to watch as the energetic and relatable female fighter with a positive message: never give up.

Divergent is in theatres March 21