By Samantha Reid
It’s a great time to be a reader. In recent years, Hollywood has latched on tight to the moneymaking business of book-to-film adaptations. The latest in that long line is Veronica Roth’s young adult trilogy “Divergent.”
“Divergent” follows the story of Tris Prior, a teenage girl in a dystopian Chicago where citizens are separated into factions based on their personality traits: the brave, the selfless, the kind, the honest and the intelligent.
The film picks up when Tris is 16 and must choose to stay in her family’s faction or embark on adventure in a new one.
The choosing process leads Tris to a startling conclusion — she doesn’t fit into any of the assigned factions. Tris is in fact “divergent,” meaning she possesses qualities of multiple factions.
The film follows her journey as she ducks danger at every turn trying to discover who she truly is, and avoiding the people who want her dead because of it.
The film runs over two hours but manages not to drag, with plenty of action and three-dimensional characters. While the plot is obviously fast-paced and futuristic, what really stands out are the performances.
Shailene Woodley plays Tris, encapsulating the well-loved book heroine with the perfect mix of vulnerability and fierce determination. At the post-premiere press conference, Woodley spoke about why she thinks Tris makes such a powerful role model.
“At the end of the day, there are a lot of powerful messages that come from being an empowered woman,” Woodley said. “That was one thing that when I read the book I really responded to. There are a lot of empowered females in films, but Tris isn’t badass by nature. She wasn’t born knowing how to survive in intense situations. She had to build her strength, and she had to dig deep for her bravery and for her courage.”
Aside from Woodley’s empowering lead performance, actor Theo James steals scenes as the sarcastic, mysterious Dauntless instructor, Four. The film utilizes a lot of young talent, including breakout performances by Ansel Elgort, Zoe Kravitz and Miles Teller. Oscar-winning actress Kate Winslet is stunningly calculating as villain Jeanine Matthews, and Hollywood veteran Ashley Judd performs powerfully as Natalie Prior, Tris’s mother.
As with any book-to-film adaptation, die-hard fans of the original text can expect changes. Author Veronica Roth spoke about her role in the process of deciding what to cut and what to keep.
“They’d ask me about the world, and I’d tell them whatever they needed to know, but other than that, I think it’s important to just trust the people you decide to work with, and just let go a little bit,” Roth said.
The actors, having read the books, said they did not feel pressure in recreating those personas on screen. Theo James said he is certain fans will understand the liberties taken in the film adaptation.
“There are some things you have to lose in the context of making a movie,” James said. “As much as we could, we tried to keep [specific lines from the book] in, but sometimes for whatever reason, inevitably because it’s a different medium, we found that it needed to be communicated in a different way.”
Even those who haven’t read the books have a lot to look forward to with “Divergent.” The cinematography is astonishing, transforming downtown Chicago into a dystopian wasteland, with Lake Michigan washed up to a swamp state and crumbling skyscrapers dotting the skyline.
The story is constantly moving, keeping the audience on the edge of their seats. “Divergent” will have you hooked from the very beginning, anxiously awaiting the release of its follow-up film, “Insurgent.”