As with The Hunger Games, Divergent is the film adaptation of the first book in an international best selling young adult science fiction series. Also like The Hunger Games, Divergent is the story of a reluctant heroine living in a dystopia who gets called upon to save her people. There are key differences however. For example, in Divergent, the government isn’t evil, like it is in The Hunger Games. For another, the heroine, Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley), isn’t presented as a hopelessly naive outsider who struggles even to grasp the world around her. Instead, Beatrice is a rather savvy young woman who understands the world around her, but just hasn’t found her place in it yet.
When a child reaches their appointed age, they are tested to discover which faction fits them best. Then they are asked to declare which faction they choose for their affiliation for the rest of their lives. Most people have the traits of their parents and go into their parents’ factions. But some small percentage have the traits of other factions and switch factions when asked to choose. Still a smaller percentage are what is called “divergent.” Basically, these people have different traits than everyone else and they don’t fall into any one group when tested. These people are considered threats to society because they are independent thinkers.
Following the selection process, Beatrice joins her new faction and must pass a series of tests to be accepted. In the process, she meets another divergent who guides her and she uncovers a conspiracy that threatens her entire society.
This film was a total knock-off of the Hunger Games formula, but I liked it a lot better than The Hunger Games. Why did I like this better? A couple things come to mind.
First, unlike The Hunger Games, this film doesn’t feel like it’s merely setting up sequels. Throughout The Hunger Games, I felt that much of what I saw had no real purpose in that film, but would become relevant in some future film. This wasn’t as bad as other films, such as The Golden Compass, where they introduced characters and story arcs that vanished from the present film with the narrator all but telling you that they would matter in the sequel, but The Hunger Games still felt like an introduction only to the real story. Divergent does not. Up until the very ending, Divergent feels like a complete story. It’s only in the last few minutes that you get the sense they are setting up for a sequel.
First, it makes the character feel more worthwhile that she is charting her own course because it means that she is showing traits like courage, strength, nobility, compassion, etc. because they are part of her nature. By comparison, a reactive heroine shows none of those things as she acts mainly out of fear and the need to survive, e.g. any bravery she shows is forced upon her events. Moreover, it gives the story a much stronger adventure feel because the heroine is out looking to achieve her goals. This brings a level of excitement and enthusiasm to the story which makes you interested to see what will happen next and what hurdles Beatrice must jump. A reactive heroine, by comparison, is merely pushed by the waves and the story has a rudderless feel to it. Indeed, a reactive heroine gives you little to cheer about because the heroine tends to wait helplessly as crises toss her where she needs to go to win the film.
Divergent, on the other hand, has a clear message throughout: it is better to be a truly independent, free thinking individual than it is to be part of the herd. That’s a vital message to send and makes an even stronger, more useful libertarian message than the idea of bringing down a corrupt government through revolution. Indeed, this is the kind of message that leads people to demand greater and greater freedom from their governments, and it provides support to the very people who will make the world better, whereas the idea of finding oneself leading a revolution by chance is a pipedream.
Ultimately, these differences raise Divergent head and shoulders above The Hunger Games. These differences give the story more life, more philosophical punch, and made the story stronger.
Lastly, by way of clarification, let me point out that while this was a film I enjoyed, I can’t say this is a fantastic film. It is exactly what it appears – a Hunger Games knock-off aimed at teens. But is a better film than The Hunger Games.