Back in May, we had the privilege of visiting the Chicago set of the adaptation of Veronica Roth’s Divergent and just last week, it was off to the film’s Los Angeles edit bay to check out what director Neil Burger has accomplished as he creeps closer to locking in his final cut.
For those in need of the basics, Divergent takes place in a postapocalyptic world where the population is divided into five factions based on a citizen’s core values – Abnegation for selflessness, Dauntless for bravery, Amity for peace, Candor for honesty, and Erudite for intelligence. Shailene Woodley’s Beatrice Prior is born into Abnegation, but come the Choosing Ceremony, she’ll get the opportunity to decide for herself; stick with her family, or trust her gut and leave them behind for a new faction.
Fortunately Beatrice doesn’t have to make this life-changing decision all on her own. Prior to the Choosing Ceremony, all 16-year-olds undergo an aptitude test that reveals an individual’s disposition towards a particular faction. Trouble is, Beatrice’s results are “inconclusive,” and that’s where our preview of the film began.
1. THE APTITUDE TEST
As teased in the trailer, we see a brief interaction between Beatrice and her test administrator, Tori (Maggie Q). Tori hands her a vial of clear liquid and Beatrice drinks as instructed. One second, Beatrice is laying on the table, talking with Tori, but immediately after drinking the serum, she turns over and Tori is gone. A moment later, Beatrice sees herself in Tori’s place. She approaches the mirror image but just before their hands touch, the camera pans away, revealing more mirror images of Beatrice, and then again revealing a seemingly endless number of incarnations. Finally, one speaks up, demanding that Beatrice #1 choose between a knife and slab of raw meat. Beatrice enquires, “Why? What do I do with them?”
Immediately after, she gets her answer.
There’s a vicious, snarling dog right in front of her. The camera stays on Beatrice as she bends down and when we cut back to the dog, it’s an adorable, harmless puppy. A child appears across the room wearing Abnegation gray, giving the impression that she’s meant to be a young Beatrice. She shouts, “Puppy,” and the dog returns to its original form and chases after her. Beatrice lunges on top of the beast and both sink down into a liquefied floor. Then it’s back to the test room where a frantic Tori insists that Beatrice tell her family that the serum made her sick. When Beatrice pries for her results, Tori explains, “Your results were inconclusive” and warns, “It’s extremely rare. They call it Divergent.”
Even though Burger noted that the visual effects are works in progress, the mirror trick looks fantastic. We can’t be inside Beatrice’s head during her aptitude test quite like we are in the book, but between what she’s experiencing and Woodley’s performance, the sequence is both enthralling and telling.
Later on in the narrative, there’s another serum that’s pivotal to the latter half of the dauntless initiation process, the fear landscapes. Burger explained, “[Tris’] first half of training is physical, fighting and shooting, all that and the knife throwing. And then the second half of training is psychological, having to face your worst fears.” Burger noted that while those fears are very specific in the book, in his film, they expand them. “They’re very contained in the book and we kind of set them out – some of them – in the real world, or in sort of a bizarre real world. We put her outside the fence in certain places.”
Questions for Veronica
Burger kept Roth close by to insure he had a firm understanding of her book and how the world works, but he also took it one step further by trying to get a grasp on the little things, some of which are so little, they’re never even mentioned in the book. “When she’s writing a certain scene, certain things don’t matter to you, but when you’re looking at it in the movie, it’s like, okay, how is it lit? What’s powering those lights or whatever it is? Do they have money? Do they have pets? Where do they get their food? Not just from the Amity farms, but what’s a market like or isn’t there one? How is it distributed?” When asked if we’d see any of those things in the film, specifically pets, Burger laughed and explained, “You don’t see pets. A little bit. You get a sense of the world a little bit. But the movie’s very much from [Beatrice’s] point of view and so you’re going on her journey rather than wondering in the world.”
If you’ve read Roth’s most recent release, Allegiant, it’s nearly impossible to look at components of Divergent the same way, especially the variety serums. When asked if having read Allegiant colored his take on Divergent, Burger admitted, “Yeah, no, it did and I was talking to Veronica while she was writing it and so I didn’t know everything that was coming, but I knew some of it so that we’d make sure we’d go off on a particular path. But yes, it’s an interesting situation in that Allegiant is so extreme in a way, but I think this movie stands on its own.”
2. KNIFE TRAINING
Inside the Dauntless compound, Eric (Jai Courtney) leads the initiates in knife-throwing training. Christina (Zoe Kravitz) points out that Tris is “kind of good at this.” Al (Christian Madsen), on the other hand, is having a tough time and Eric notices. Eric insists that Al retrieve his knives even though the other initiates are still throwing. Eric sees Al hesitate and asks, “Are you afraid?” Al bluntly replies, “Of getting stabbed by an airborne knife? Yeah.” Eric doesn’t appreciate his honesty and insists that Al stand in front of the target while Four (Theo James) gets set to hurl knives at him.
But Tris steps in and tells Eric, “Anyone can stand in front of a target. It doesn’t prove anything.” That only enrages Eric further and he insists that Tris take Al’s spot. She gamely takes position and Four throws, his knives landing closer and closer until one nicks her ear, drawing blood. At that, Eric declares, “Points for bravery, Stiff. Not as many as you just lost for opening your mouth.” He ends the practice session leaving just Tris and Four behind. Four admits that he meant to cut her because Eric wouldn’t have let her off without a scratch. He points out, “You’d still be standing there if I hadn’t hit you,” to which Tris replies, “Am I supposed to thank you?” Says Four, “If I wanted to hurt you, I would have.”
Even though some of the knife-throwing and impact sounds don’t match up just yet, the tension is still palpable courtesy of Courtney’s absolutely flawless look and on-screen intensity.
Tris vs. Katniss
When your narrative involves a young, red-haired woman fighting for her life in a postapocalyptic world, comparisons to The Hunger Games are inevitable and Burger knows it. He insisted, “This is a far more complex story than Hunger Games, and if you know the book, she starts out questioning her place in society and she ends up questioning society itself.” He noted that Katniss never changes. “She’s a good archer to begin with and she’s good at the end.” On the other hand, “Tris goes through this massive change from somebody who kind of wants to disappear to somebody who’s gonna stand up.”
Woodley on the Rise
Similarly, should Divergent live up to all the hype, Woodley could be heading towards an extreme transformation of her own. Burger explained, “[Shailene’s] loose and gets in her car and goes down to the store and goes on a road trip or whatever it is and is just completely open.” He insisted, “I don’t think it will change her and I think the tough thing is that it doesn’t mean things don’t change because people look at you in a different way and they can’t see you for who you are. I think she’s aware of that, but I think she’s really adamant about not having it change her and I hope she’s successful with that.”
3. FOUR’S TATTOO REVEAL
In the movie, the conversation between Tris and Four in his dormitory takes place on a balcony of sorts, an exterior location with a view of the sunset bathing the pair in a warm orange/pink light. To the tune of Ellie Goulding, Tris begins the conversation by asking about Four’s tattoo. He pulls off his shirt revealing the exact same tattoos from his character poster, including all five faction symbols. Tris asks, “Why do you have all of them?” Four replies, “I don’t want to be just one thing. I can’t be. I want to be brave and I want to be selfless, intelligent, and honest and kind.” He jokes, “I’m still working on kind,” after which the two embrace and kiss.
Admittedly, while watching Woodley and James film back in May, it was tough to pinpoint and feel an honest connection – something that isn’t particularly surprising considering we only got to watch one person’s performance at a time. However, after getting to see their work cut together, it’s clear they’ve got something and when you compare their interaction at the end of the knife-throwing scene to this moment here, it suggests that this won’t be some love at first sight nonsense; we could get an honest, thoughtful build in the final feature.
When asked about locking in James for the role of Four, Burger explained, “I’ve always said that Shailene is a really strong actress, like on set. She’s powerful herself. We needed somebody that was just more powerful than her, which wasn’t easy to find. And we found somebody who intimidated her, basically.”
On the Romance
It’s easy to scoff at the overabundance of familiar relationships and love triangles in the YA-to-film realm, but with Divergent, Burger strives to make the connection between Tris and Four stand out by maintaining an atmosphere of sexual tension throughout the film. “There’s the romance that’s just the kissing and the giving in and then there’s the cat and mouse, the dance of it leading up to it, and that’s what there is a lot of.” Burger continued, “The movie is incredibly romantic in that way and has this quality of romance because they are eying each other and sort of tiptoeing around each other, each in their different way, so there is this really palpable sense of attraction, friction, tension and electricity between them in the whole movie.”
When asked if the song “I’m Dead in the Water” is final or just temp music, Burger noted, “It’s not the final, but it is Ellie Goulding. She’s gonna do some music.”
Stay tuned for more on Divergent coming soon as we near the film’s March 21, 2014 release! In the meantime, make sure you get the alert so you’re the first to know when tickets go on sale.
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