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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Divergent is the first adaptation of author Veronica Roth's best-selling dystopian trilogy. Set in a future Chicago, the movie is slightly less violent than the book but still depicts the brutal world of a post-apocalyptic society divided into factions or groups. People are killed, orphaned, injured, and thoroughly beat up in bloody hand-to-hand combat (including guy-on-girl fist fights), violent bullying, an armed occupation, and mass killings of unarmed people. There's a central romance, but it remains fairly chaste -- only some longing looks, embraces and one extended, passionate kiss. The movie features a brave, vulnerable, and fierce female main character.
What's the story?
In the distant future, Chicago is cut off from the rest of America in a society strictly divided into five factions based on character traits -- Abnegation (the selfless), Amity (the kind), Candor (the honest), Dauntless (the brave), and Erudite (the intelligent). Beatrice "Tris" Prior (Shailene Woodley) is a 16-year-old Abnegation-born teen whose government-sponsored personality test reveals she is DIVERGENT-- meaning she doesn't fit into just one faction. After choosing to join Dauntless, Tris must survive a brutal (and bloody) initiation process under the tutelage of her handsome, mysterious instructor Four (Theo James). Together they discover that the Erudite, led by Jeanine Matthews (Kate Winslet), plan to kill all Divergents and take control of the government -- unless Tris and Four can stop them.
Is it any good?
The movie adaptation of the popular YA series benefits from a talented cast, a spot-on visual depiction of the factions, the Dauntless Pit, and the story's urban Chicago setting. The acting ensemble is as good as the cast of The Hunger Games and vastly superior to that of Twilight and the forgettable Vampire Academy and Mortal Instruments adaptations. While Woodley doesn't fit the canon description of Tris, she captures the character's mix of vulnerability and courage, her desire to be independent in a world that demands conformity. And although heartthrob Theo James is almost too manly looking for Woodley's doe-eyed ingenue, he definitely gets the job done as the intensely serious Four.
But the movie doesn't live up to the hype or the potential of the written series. The Dauntless initiation process isn't as violent or emotional on the screen as it is on the page, and neither is the buildup of the Tris and Four romance or Tris' friendship with her fellow transfer initiates. Considering the two-and-a-half-hour runtime, there are parts that drag on and yet aspects of the book that seem surprisingly cut. The performances (Winslet is fabulous as the icy Erudite leader, and Zoe Kravitz, Maggie Q, and Jai Courtney are all true to the spirit of their characters) make up for some of the pacing and screenwriting issues, but overall this adaptation falls short of fan expectations. Still, tweens and teens who've read the books should absolutely see the movies and hope the second and third installments fare better.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the popularity of violent dystopian stories aimed at teenagers. What purpose does the violence serve in Divergent? Is it different to see violence rather than to read about it? How does the violence in the book compare to the movie?
How does Tris compare to other female protagonists in young adult books and movies? What are her views on love, family, and relationships? Does she have the qualities of a role model?
Discuss the central romance between Tris and Four. Were you surprised at how slowly it progressed? What messages about love and sex does the film communicate?
Fans of the book: Was the movie a faithful adaptation? What differences did you like, which scenes from the book did you miss?
How do the characters in Divergent demonstrate courage? Why is this an important character strength?
- In theaters: March 21, 2014
- On DVD or streaming: August 5, 2014
- Cast: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet
- Director: Neil Burger
- Studio: Summit Entertainment
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Topics: Book Characters, Great Girl Role Models
- Character Strengths: Courage
- Run time: 143 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: intense violence and action, thematic elements and some sensuality
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