“Divergent” is the latest young adult novel to follow in the footsteps of “The Hunger Games” and “The Twilight Saga” and get big-screen treatment with the release of the Summit Entertainment motion picture on Friday, March 21.
For those who haven’t yet read the Veronica Roth tome on which it is based, “Divergent” takes place in a future world where people are divided into distinct factions based on their personalities: Abnegation (the Selfless), Dauntless (the Brave), Candor (the Honest), Amity (the Peaceful), and Erudite (the Intelligent). Each citizen on reaching the required age of 16, undergoes testing to determine which faction is most appropriate for them.
But our heroine Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley) doesn’t fall into one of the regular categories and is cautioned that she is Divergent and will never fit into any one group. Later, she discovers a conspiracy to destroy all Divergents and she must figure out what makes being Divergent so dangerous before it’s too late.
“I read the book before there was a script,” says Woodley, 22. “Luckily for me, it was written from Tris’ point of view, so Veronica did a lot of the work for me. Before scenes, I would go back to the book and see what Veronica put in Tris’ mind to understand the mind-set of each scene. That really helped me to get into the emotional state of where Tris was.”
Naturally, a two-hour movie can’t encompass everything that is covered in a novel, but Director Neil Burger made the decision to stay as faithful to the book as possible — going so far as to lift fan-favorite pieces of dialogue for familiarity, even as necessity required him to combine certain elements to make one dramatic journey for the movie.
“There are so many characters in the book that have their function and that are beloved, and there are so many great set pieces,” he says. “There are too many, really, to fit into a movie, but we really worked hard to squeeze them all in and to come up with an idea for a movie that was even more fast-paced than usual and more condensed than usual.”
In addition to being a sci-fi movie about a society in the future, “Divergent” is about the universal search that we experience today, and begs the questions: Where do I belong? Who am I? Who am I loyal to? What am I willing to go out on a limb for?
The latter becomes an urgent question as the five-faction society, which initially looks like it has solved the issue of world peace, begins to crumble.
“Divergent” isn’t the first franchise movie that Woodley has auditioned for. She actually read for “The Hunger Games,” which, of course, went to Jennifer Lawrence. So, when she was offered the role of Tris, she contacted Lawrence for advice.
“I still have yet to meet her, but I asked her about her experience and how her life has changed going from small, independent movies to something as big as ‘The Hunger Games,’ and she gave me really beautiful advice,” says the Simi Valley, California-born actress, who previously won several awards for her role opposite George Clooney in “The Descendants.” “She said how much she appreciated it and how much it’s changed her life in positive ways. She really helped me on this journey, initially.”
If “Divergent,” which also stars Theo James, Zoë Kravitz, Maggie Q, Tony Goldwyn, Ashley Judd, Mekhi Phifer, and Kate Winslet, cashes in at the box office, the good news for fans of the books is the cast — at least those who are alive at the end of the movie — has already been locked in for the sequel.