What The Hell Is ‘Divergent’: An Explainer

Senior Contributor
03.06.14 16 Comments

You may have heard about a movie primed to wipe the floor with a lot of records this month. Divergent has been beating Twilight‘s records for ticket pre-sales and is being hyped as the next Hunger Games, at least financially. And unless you’re a teenage girl, you’ve probably never heard of it. So, here’s what you need to know.

So this is some sort of science fiction movie… thing?

Yep, it’s based on a young adult novel of the same name, by Veronica Roth.

What’s the plot?

Beatrice Prior feels like she doesn’t belong and doesn’t fit in anywhere, you know, your typical teenage girl. One problem, though; she lives in a world where everybody has to join one of five castes for reasons that are never terribly clear. At sixteen you get put under the Sorting Hat and you’re told what caste works best for you. Unless, of course, you are… Divergent. In the book, this translates out to being homeless, and boy, could a therapist have some fun with the implications of that.

In this case, though, it just means you can pick one of several castes to join provided you’re willing to fake it. Beatrice, sick of being nice to everybody, changes her name to Tris, essentially joins the Army, and we’re off to the races as the various factions stir up trouble.

Is the book any good?

Eh, kinda. It’s agreeable pulpy nonsense; the plot hinges on the Dauntless, Tris’ caste, being injected with a virtual reality “serum.” The book itself pinballs off various genres; there’s a stretch in the middle where Tris deals with her worst fears that’s competent horror, for example.

It suffers compared to, say, The Hunger Games, which largely got lumped into the YA category because the protagonist is a teenage girl. Suzanne Collins is a grim, spare writer who really gets into the head of a girl suffering from pretty severe emotional problems; Veronica Roth is more of a H. Rider Haggard type. But it’s fun enough nonsense, a good beach read.

And it’s getting a movie?!

In case you hadn’t noticed, Harry Potter and The Hunger Games made a lot of cash, so anything that’s sold well in the YA category gets a movie deal, these days. That’s led to a lot of bombs, like Vampire Academy, the Percy Jackson “franchise,” and The Mortal Instruments but Hollywood still believes there’s money to be made. It helps that Divergent sold a lot of copies digitally, betraying an interest from a wider audience.

Any reason I, who am not a teenage girl, would be interested?

The most attention-getting name involved here is Neil Burger, who was behind Interview With The Assassin, The Illusionist, and that movie about Bradley Cooper doing cocaine-except-not called Limitless. Burger’s talented, with a taste for the surreal, so he might have something special here.

Also, Kate Winslet saw something she liked and took a role as a villain, so that’s got to count for something. Even if she was in The Reader.

There a trailer handy?


It seems a bit like a generic action flick. But if nothing else, it’s not a creepy screed about how awesome controlling abusive relationships are, so there is that. Divergent arrives March 21st.

Around The Web

People's Party iTunes