Divergent: Of fiction and factions

  • Lifestyle
  • Wednesday, 19 Mar 2014

A movie based on a hit young adult novel about life in a segregated dystopian world? Is Divergent a Hunger Games rip-off? You be the judge.

LAST week, when Theo James, the star of the highly-anticipated movie Divergent found out that I was talking to him on the telephone from Kuala Lumpur, he asked: “Do you have any news on the missing plane?”

Startled by the fact that the good-looking man, whom I had watched in a special preview of the movie barely 24 hours earlier, was not just a pretty face oblivious to current affairs (as I had unfairly expected him to be), I mumbled something along the lines of, “Erm, it’s still missing.”

The 29-year-old star, who some industry insiders claim as the next Hollywood hunk, was in Los Angeles, California, doing a promotional tour for the movie which also stars Shailene Woodley, Kate Winslet, Zoe Kravitz, Maggie Q and Ashley Judd among others.

“It is crazy,” he said, referring to the Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 incident and as I didn’t have much information to offer about the situation, the conversation moved to the actual reason why he was on the phone – to talk about his upcoming movie.

Directed by Neil Burger (Limitless and The Illusionist), Divergent is based on the first novel, of the same name, in the young adult trilogy by Veronica Roth.

It tells the story about life in a dystopian world in which society is segregated into five factions with each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue – Candor (honesty), Erudite (intelligence), Dauntless (bravery), Abnegation (selflessness) and Amity (peacefulness).

“In times of extremity, post war, extreme regimes rise up out of tough times, so it does kind of happen and I’m not sure it would function well in reality. Humans are inherently multi-faceted and motivated by various things, so it would be hard,” said James about the practicality of segregating people into factions in real life.

“It’s five different schools of thoughts, way of thinking and people prescribe to that in different sense.”

However, in the movie, it is the only way of life.

Every year, on an appointed day, each 16-year-old member of the society has to make a possibly life-altering decision – whether to stay in their current faction or choose a new one to devote the rest of their lives. And to help them make the all-important selection, the teenagers are put through several tests in hopes of revealing their true nature befitting one of the five factions.

Unfortunately, for some young people like the movie’s protagonist Beatrice ‘Tris’ Prior (Woodley), that decision is not exactly clear cut. She possesses characteristics that proves she belongs to more than one faction – the very type of individual the society labels as a Divergent and is on the hit list of Erudite’s evil leader Jeanine Matthews (Winslet).

To hide her anomaly and feed on her love for adventure, Prior leaves her birth faction Abnegation and chooses Dauntless where she meets one of its young leaders, the intriguing and mysterious Four (James).

“It’s about choice and about how she identifies herself in a world that she feels she doesn’t belongs in, and that is quite current because more and more people are trying to define themselves and they find it hard to stick out from the crowd,” said James.

The actor also believes that despite the graphic interpretation of a post-“whatever” (James is yet to find the right word to describe the world featured in the movie) society, he believes that there are some similarities between that world and real life.

“It does have parallels. It’s a future that has suffered a war and a future that suffers after mankind has ravaged the planet. It also raises the questions, ‘what will the future look like? Can we sustain ourselves in the way we are consuming at the moment?’.

“There are also historical parallels – there is a little bit of Gestapo, Nazi Germany in there, the Aryan kind of coldness that is kind of scary from the Erudite faction.”

James is well aware that fans of the book series are watching closely to see if the cast and crew got it right.

“I think it seems to be going down relatively well, I saw the movie and I thought that it was really true to the book but also it was a strong independent movie in its own right. Whether you have read the books or not, it is still a quite complex action adventure film, so I was pleased with it.”

Another individual who was pleased with the way the director navigated the 487-page book into a 139-minute action-packed movie is the author herself, who James noted was a constant fixture on the movie’s set in Chicago.

“She was very present and came on set a lot and she was open to talk and she’s phenomenal really. But in terms of asking her personally any specific questions about the character, I avoided doing that you know, I wanted to be free to make my own choices and portray the character the way I wanted to and the way I felt was right.”

Nevertheless, James believes fans of the book series will feel that the cast and crew have done justice to one of their favourite novels.

“The challenges were trying to honour the material and making it as true to the book as possible but at the same time adapt to the screen in its own specific ways. There are things that are lost – things that were in the book but not in the film, because you’re telling the story in a short time so you have to be succinct with the narrative. But on the whole, I think that it reflects the book really well,” he said.

Divergent opens in cinemas nationwide on March 20.

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