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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 



Divergent, Review

Divergent, Review

Divergent is set in a world that has been reduced to a city, Chicago, due a conflict that destroyed the rest of the planet. There has been peace for the last 100 years, an achievement mainly attributed to the principle of dividing people factions, based on human virtues: Abnegation (selflessness), Amity (kindness), Candor (honesty), Dauntless (bravery), and Erudite (intelligence). Anyone who does not conform to one of these five is banished to the city outskirts, as "factionless." A person who values all five virtues equally is known as "Divergent." Citizens are subjected to aptitude tests and a faction is recommended for them to join, based on the result. But they can still opt for another faction of their choice. However, the choice, once made, is irreversible, and the factions have to live according to the rules of the chosen faction.

Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley, of The Spectacular Now) is a 16-year-old girl who undergoes the test and is warned by the woman who conducts it, Tori (Maggie Q), that she is a Divergent, and will never fit into any one group. Nevertheless, she has to make a choice, and she chooses Dauntless, though her parents are with the Abnegation faction. She changes her name to Tris and finds a friend in Four, a Dauntless trainer. Just when her ‘extreme’ training is over, she discovers a conspiracy by Erudite faction leader Jeanine (Kate Winslet) to destroy all Divergents, with the help of Eric (Jai Courtenay) and her other Erudite henchmen.

The film is based on a novel by Veronica Roth, adapted for the screen by Vanessa Taylor (writer/producer, Game of Thrones) and Evan Daugherty (Snow White and the Huntsman).

25 year-old Veronica Roth started writing when she was 12. Divergent (published 2011) is her first novel. Since then, she has also published Insurgent and Allegiant, thus completing the trilogy. She describes herself as "… the good kid who came home at a reasonable hour and never did anything wrong." But there’s plenty that is either wrong or uninteresting in the film version of her debut novel, which has a clear resonance of elements in the Indian Hindu caste system, where people are divided into the holy, the warriors, the traders and the menials/untouchbales. She goes one-step ahead and makes five factions.

Except for an opening scene that provides a fleeting mirror to the life-style of Abnegation families, the narrative gives us practically no information about the isolated city and its functioning. Most characters come across as card-board cut-outs. Motivation seems to be scarce as a driving force for the characters. A few minutes into the story and we find it shifting from a allegory-ridden social commentary to science fiction disaster movie to an Extreme Limits TV series, and then metamorphosing into a political thriller. Panoramic shots and dizzy heights are well captured. Music is ably integrated as an ominous element. Violence is never gory or gruesome, which will allow teenagers to watch the film without censor restrictions or cuts.

Director Neil Burger (Interview with the Assassin, The Illusionist) uses shots of Dauntless recruits jumping on and off running trains repeatedly, which erodes the novelty of the twist. Actors go about their jobs mechanically. Ashley Judd as Beatrice’s mother impresses. Kate Winslet as the Queen baddie is another example of cashing-in on a former star's audience pulling power, real or imagined, to add weight to the villainous goings-on. While Robert Redford was his competent self in Captain America, Winslet is not as convincing here. As a viewer, one is never absorbed into the proceedings enough to empathise, even sympathise, with the predicament of any of the main characters.                                     

Burger will not be directing the Divergent sequel (titled Insurgent), which is slated to arrive in theatres in March 2015.                     

Hope the novel, and its screen adaptation, will be more convergent with good cinema than Divergent is.

Rating: **



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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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