Shailene Woodley in ‘Divergent’/Image © Jaap Buitendijk/Summit Entertainment
Viewers enjoying the MTV Video Music Awards show Sunday night got their first solid look at “Divergent,” a movie starring Shailene Woodley, directed by Neil Burger and based on author Veronica Roth’s young adult novel of the same name. Check out the trailer below.
On her sixteenth birthday, a young woman named Beatrice Prior (Woodley) is faced with pledging herself to one “virtue” that will steer the course of the rest of her life. After taking a mandatory aptitude test, she is informed by her evaluator, Tory Wu (Maggie Q), that she is a “Divergent”: A person whose mind cannot be steered into the mindless conformity mandated by those in control and exemplified by the five Virtues.
Not wanting to be penalized for her "Divergent" state of being, Beatrice moves from Abnegation faction to Dauntless faction, in an attempt to better fit in.
The powers that be (represented in the trailer by the icy Kate Winslet as villain Jeanine Matthews) cannot stand the risk to the status quo that free-thinking Divergents pose – and she and her team will go to any length to eliminate them. Rather than accept her fate, Beatrice takes an assumed name and joins a group of resistors led by rebel operative “Four” (Theo James). When Jeanine Matthews (played by Kate Winslet), the leader of Erudite, plots war with Abnegation, Beatrice -- now Tris -- joins forces with "Four" (Theo James) to stop her.*
For a story to really synch with a teen audience, it has to address at least some – ideally, all – of the primary concerns of adolescence: fitting in, finding love, and rebelling against authority. It would appear that “Divergent” has hit upon this magic teenage trifecta, offering a powerful story that will ring emotionally true with any adolescent.
Winslet’s line, “The future belongs to those who know where they belong,” probably isn’t terribly different from the endless advice kids hear from their own teachers about how terribly important their choice of college and area of study will be. Just like Beatrice, some of them are probably feeling the pressure to fit into a system that might seem more focused on making better workers instead of nurturing creativity.
Like real-life teenagers, Beatrice learns that being “different” can be as much of a curse as a gift, depending on the circumstances. Standing out as a free-thinker can be tough, not only in Beatrice’s Orwellian society, but also in your average suburban high school. Beatrice’s evaluator, Tori Wu, informs her of her uniqueness in the same tone of voice one might use to share news of a terminal illness: “You’re different. You don’t belong in a category. They can’t control you. They call it divergent.”
Beatrice is forced to find a new group. In high school, this might be the jocks or the mathletes or goths. Beatrice, of course, joins the resistance. Like every teenage tribe, this one has its own laws and customs, but it also presents a new opportunity to establish a new identity. There’s something else there, too: The third part of our teen trifecta. Beatrice (and her young adult audience) will experience the fear and excitement of young.
Rebelling against the expectations of the matriarch, Winslet, and discovering your own uniqueness and finding acceptance among a new group of friends (not to mention a new love interest) isn’t just a loose framework for a story like “Divergent”; it’s pretty much the story of everyone’s adolescence. Provided that the movie is handled with the necessary sincerity, and without the condescension that teenage audiences seem so adept at sensing, “Divergent” will undoubtedly hold its own. Look for it in 2014.
*We've not yet read the book (though we will before we see the movie) -- so thanks to SIG readers James B. and Liz, below in the comments, for helping us understand the plot!