As the latest film franchise based on a bestselling young-adult book series, "Divergent" arrives in theaters Friday to the delight of die-hard fans.
But for those unfamiliar with the dystopian thriller's background and mythology, all this talk of factions and their SAT-word names (what does "abnegation" mean again?) might as well be Greek. Here's a quick primer to get up to speed.
The setup: "Divergent" is set in a dystopian Chicago where people are divided into factions based on their personality types: Members of the Dauntless faction are brave, for example, and serve as the warrior class, protecting the city. Abnegation members are selfless and run the government, Candor are devoted to honesty and run the courts, Amity value goodwill and tend farms, and Erudite cherish intelligence and serve as teachers and doctors.
During an annual ceremony, 16-year-olds are tested to see which faction they fit in best and then have the option to abide or choose a new faction for life. Our heroine, Beatrice "Tris" Prior, played by Shailene Woodley, learns that she does not fit neatly into one faction because she's in fact Divergent — a secret she must conceal for her own survival.
The author: Veronica Roth was just 21 when she wrote "Divergent," her first book, which sold in four days, to the first editor who finished reading it. It quickly became a bestseller and spawned two sequels, "Insurgent" and "Allegiant."
The trilogy has sold more than 17 million copies, and Summit Entertainment snapped up the film rights to the series before the first book even landed on store shelves.
The comparisons: "Divergent" has frequently been compared to "The Hunger Games," and it's not hard to see why: Both are set in rigidly ordered postapocalyptic dystopias. Both feature annual ceremonies with fateful repercussions for young people. Both focus on fiercely independent young women who rebel against the strictures of their societies. And in the film world, both had debut entries come out in March, with planned sequels to follow (Lionsgate clearly has high hopes for "Divergent," with "Insurgent" and "Allegiant" films, based on eponymous Roth novels, already slated for March 2015 and 2016).
And as "The Hunger Games" propelled Jennifer Lawrence from indie acclaim (for "Winter's Bone") to mainstream stardom, "Divergent" could have a similar effect for its leading lady. Which brings us to our next point.…
The players: If you haven't already, get used to hearing the name Shailene Woodley. The 22-year-old "Divergent" star got her start on the ABC Family series "The Secret Life of the American Teenager" and earned critical acclaim for her performances in "The Descendants" and "The Spectacular Now."
With "Divergent" and the upcoming love story "The Fault in Our Stars," also based on a hit YA novel, Woodley is poised for a career-changing year. She has also earned a reputation as a highly quotable free spirit who's unafraid to speak her mind.
Meanwhile, English actor Theo James plays Woodley's hunky mentor and love interest, Four. James, 29, appeared in the popular British television drama "Downton Abbey" and also starred in the CBS sitcom "Golden Boy." Other rising talents in "Divergent" include Miles Teller (Woodley's co-star in "The Spectacular Now") and Ansel Elgort (Woodley's co-star in "The Fault in Our Stars").
The stakes: Lionsgate, the studio distributing "Divergent" under its Summit banner, has had success bringing YA books to the big screen via the "Twilight" and the "Hunger Games" movies. With just two "Hunger Games" films remaining, the "Divergent" properties represent a potential successor to those franchises but also a test of the studio's ability to continue to reach elusive YA audiences. So far? "Divergent" has scored strong early box-office numbers and lackluster reviews.