Yesterday was the European Premiere of Divergent in Leicester Square, London. The square had been transformed into a fan experience, patrolled by Erudite scientists and Dauntless soldiers. There were bungee jumping things, laser guns, the opportunity to have yourself photographed in the film poster, and of course, there was the test.
First things first, though, what is Divergent? Because I’m getting a lot of questions about that.
Divergent is the first book in a YA trilogy, dealing with a dystopian future, based in Chicago 100 years after the war. (I can’t actually find my copy of the book to double check, so I’m not sure whether the city is named in the book. It is in the film.)
In this future, people are broken down into five factions. Abnegation, the selfless. Dauntless, the brave. Erudite, knowledge. Candor, truth, and Amity, friendship. Each faction has a different role to play in society. Abnegation are the government, as they govern for others and put themselves last. Dauntless keep the peace and guard the wall, Erudite are the scientists and teachers (?), Candor do something to do with order? Oh, and Amity? They do all the boring stuff. Like grow all the food
Children grow up in their families as part of their faction. At 16 they are tested and given the results of the test to help them in their choice of which faction they will choose to live the rest of their life in. They can stay where they’ve grown up, or change. One choice, and there’s no going back.
Our hero, Beatrice, has grown up in Abnegation. But when she’s tested, I guess it’s not too big a spoiler to say she’s told the test results are inconclusive. She’s Divergent, and that’s dangerous – she mustn’t tell anyone. So she doesn’t – and chooses to move to Dauntless. There’s lots of action, and the already broken society starts to fracture even further apart.
The film is very close to the book in a lot of ways. There are even some word for word quotes – which drew little approving gasps in a cinema full of fans. (I did like how many people outside the barriers were clutching well read copies of the book for stars and the author to sign.) The violence, and there’s plenty of it, is a little more sanitised than in the novel. People who are shot go down in neat little heaps, mostly, and there’s very little blood or gore, except when it’s central to the story line.
There are plenty of fight scenes too – Tris, as she is by now, is the weakest of the initiatives, and she’s quite literally got to fight for the right to make it in her new faction. Only the best will go through – the rest will live factionless. (It’s slightly glossed over in the film that this is a new rule, a sign of the gradual deterioration of the system.)
The book obviously has much more time to go into this kind of thing, and for my money, is well worth the read. There’s a lot going on under the covers, and lots to think about. We have had endless discussions here about the ins and outs of it all. The faction ideals are good, but the factions themselves are drifting away from them. Dauntless should be about bravery and heroism – but not about bravery to the point of stupidity. There’s a suicide (only seen briefly in the film) that is celebrated in the book as the ultimate bravery.
Does the film diminish the book? In no way. Even though I know the story, I had my heart in my mouth in several places – the visuals are stunning. And the love interest (come on, it’s YA, you knew there was going to be a love interest didn’t you?) Four played by Theo James is beautifully judged – no overt soppiness, Tris (Shailene Woodley) meets him as an equal. Or even, in some ways, as stronger than him.
The ages in the film have drifted up a little – Tris should be 16, and Four 18. They seem to have been moved up a couple of years each, and I think that does weaken it slightly – what’s happening to youth in the Divergent society is harsh. There’s also a very violent and unpleasant episode from the book completely missing – while I didn’t want to see a vicious stabbing, I’m intrigued at how that omission is going to be dealt with as it should have set up a whole strand of character development that just wasn’t there.
Did I enjoy the film? Absolutely. And it’s great to see another strong female lead, with a woman headlining a Hollywood action movie. Highly recommended.
Check back tomorrow to see my impressions of the premiere itself.