We were invited to the set of Divergent, the next dystopian future movie for teens. We saw the dark future Chicago, and learned how director Neil Burger would bring this beloved book to life. Here's everything we saw on the Divergent set.
For the non-Divergent fans, this world (created by novelist Veronica Roth) is kind of confusing. So instead of writing a plain set report, we're breaking it down a little bit. Yes there are spoilers — but nothing too major.
Long story short — all teenagers in future Chicago are given an aptitude test and sent off to live in one of these factions, forever. And after the fabulous Choosing Ceremony (above) the younglings are then shipped off to become the best faction member they can (or get kicked out) — whether it's learning how to be a nurse in Abnegation or a warrior in Dauntless. Here's the breakdown of each group just so we're all on the same page.
Abnegation - The Selfless. Wear grey, live in little grey cube homes (pictured above). The main character Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley) and her family are from here. Beatrice is the audience's POV. In her aptitude test Beatrice finds out that she's actually a DIVERGENT and can't be placed. Which is very, very bad. She's told to hide this fact about herself. So she does, and chooses to be a member of Dauntless, and to change her name to Tris. From here on out I will be referring to her as Tris.
I actually got to see inside Tris' family home in Abnegation. Not surprisingly, it was very simple — think Ikea Malm line, but everything in white. Very little window, not a lot of color, cement walls (just like on the outside) and rice and beans for dinner. Bland town.
Dauntless — The Brave. The Dauntless wear Black, grey and killer black moon boots for kicking people in their faces. They're super into tattoos. They get to places by jumping off a modified commuter train that NEVER STOPS. They have to jump off of it, because they are badassess, and apparently that is what badasses do. They are the warrior adrenaline junkies who like to play with knives. A lot of them get horrifically scared by their fellow Dauntless members.
And it's in this faction where the meat of the movie takes place. Watching Tris go through her arduous Dauntless training school. Jumping off buildings and throwing knives and being submitted to fear landscapes (where your brain is messed with, to reveal your innermost fears). Obviously, much larger things are happening in the background — but the heart of the story is mostly with Tris in Dauntless making new friends and falling in love with Four, the leader.
Amity —The Peaceful. Donning a color ensemble of red, orange and yellow the Amity group are the peacekeepers of the land. They dislike war, and those who cause rebellions.
Candor — The Honest. According to the costume designer, Carlo Poggioli, this group was the hardest to dress because the book only described what they wore as black and white. So he put them all in really spiffy white suits with black piping, and vice versa. They all look like a ska band of lawyer, it was great. Kind of honest to a fault — the members of Candor take dishonesty very seriously. Tris' friend Christina (Zoë Kravitz, also pictured above) was formerly of the Candor clan before joining Dauntless.
Erudite — The Intelligent. The thinkers! Lots and lots of cobalt blue ensembles, lab coats. and lots of rubber. Kate Winslet plays the leader of this clan, Jeanine Matthews, because she so very smarty smart smart. A clever collection of folks, the Erudites are not to be trusted, and should be feared if you're Divergent.
Factionless — Not revealed until later in the movie. They are the unwanted and unwelcome. They wear a lot of boiled wool.
Possibly the biggest takeaway I left from the Divergent set was the importance of infusing the city of Chicago into each shot. Everyone stressed that linking this future city to the real-life Chicago was imperative, because the book wove just about every scene into various parts of the Windy City.
In fact the above-pictured Abnegation village was erected right in plain sight (something movie sets are usually loathe to do, for fear of spoilers) so they could get the Hancock Building in the background in just about every take. And it really helped lend a feeling of place to this totally bonkers setting of future Chicago, where everyone dresses in color codes. It was a good branch between the wild leaps the author took while creating this universe.
And this love for the practical uses of Chicago was shared throughout the set. When asking everyone what their favorite scene or set was the response was almost unanimously the Navy Pier night hunt. In which a couple of Dauntless members scale the giant ferris wheel and Navy Pier. But in order to make the place look rundown and old, the visual FX folks created rusty decals that they placed all over the site. Then they climbed all over that bitch, for real.
Hell, the opening shot of the entire movie is a giant shot of the now-destroyed city. Surrounded by a giant marsh and a MASSIVE metal fence. The final book in the Divergent series just dropped this week, and it should have an explanation behind the mysterious fence around Chicago. But as of right now, I still don't know why it's there, what it's keeping in or out, and what happened to lead to this weirdo new world.
And the final "Hey that's Chicago!" moment (that got me really excited) was the transformation of the city's L train. The elevated train (that already exists in Chicago) was extended right down Michigan Avenue. This is the previously mentioned Dauntless drop off. Instead of stopping at various stops the train whizzes by and the members of Dauntless jump off (a move that is supposed to consistently prove their bravery and strength).
Unfortunately for some Dauntless members, a few of the stops jumps are very treacherous and if you remember the book, one little Dauntless warrior doesn't make the jump. Sadly for director Neil Burger that was one of the scenes that had to be cut. He explained why on set:
Neil Burger: I think the book is really true to the essence of the script and the characters and the action.. There's one bit in the beginning of the book — I don't know if i should talk about it but oh well... In the beginning, when they first join Dauntless and they jump from the train to the ledge, and a Dauntless born falls off. And she dies. I think her name is Rita, and Rita's sister is very upset. What I love about that is that it's very early on, and it cuts the kind of excitement about the whole thing and brings in a dose of reality. Oh wow this is life and death, shit just got real. And I loved that about the book. But although it is YA and it is about young people and it's all exciting, there's a real life and death element to it. There's high stakes, and we don't have that in the beginning of the film but there's real high stakes. Which is the important thing. We convey it in a different way, although we don't have someone literally dying.
Not everything is all ruined Chicago. A great deal of the film takes place in the world that Roth created all on her own.
Probably the most impressive of all the sets, the white marble looking quarry houses wild Dauntless parties, sparring matches and all sorts of scenes. The only way to get around inside the pit is by a rickety ladder or by climbing. Just about everyone on set was covered in white dust from the pit. Which gave it a bit of cred. The Pit is also the home (on set) to the Dauntless Chasm. A scary crack that falls into darkness and nothingness and (presumably) your death if dropped down there. Many Dauntless members are dangled above this dangerous crack.
Other sets we stole a few glimpses at on set, or thanks to some concept art includes the Erudite Campus (which is a giant glass dome much more elaborate and grand than the other factions), Hall of Choosing, Dauntless HQ, a futuristic tattoo parlor, and the Factionless Dorms (which appeared to be hidden/surrounded by dead trees).
Probably the most important part of the movie (besides establishing the wondrously complicated world that Roth created) is the chemistry between Four (Theo James) and Tris. Thank goodness, one of their very first flirty scenes was the moment I got to witness.
Inside the Pit there was a celebration, and Four was drunk. He spies Tris walking into the Pit (also ready to celebrate because she kicked ass earlier during training) and just drops a big fat "I like you" bomb on her. Four calls over Tris and calls her brave. "You think I'm brave?" she asks with giant self depreciating deer eyes of disbelief. Four quickly counters. "I think you're beautiful." AWKWARD. He continues, "There's beauty in strength."
The language was hot. And both actors have that star quality. But I was almost taken aback by how not Twilight this was. There was no "Let's stare at each other with our mouths agape breathing each others air because we are THAT INTO IT."
When we spoke with the pair they concurred that they're not that kind of couple. And also confirmed that the much fan-loved tattoo back reveal scene will absolutely be in the film.
Theo James: That's an important scene for us as well.
Shailene Woodley: It's a turning point.
Theo James: The great thing about their relationship from the beginning is that they're not suddenly in love. Obviously they kind of are, but they have this fractious thing because he's trying to maintain some kind of authority. And she's discovering herself. They're back and forth. They're always kind of together. The love is very forceful, but at the same time there are all these other things going on. Which I think is much more interesting. But the key scene [the tattoo tracing scene] that is in the script.
Shailene Woodley: For me that's what I was attracted to. One of the main aspects of Divergent is their relationship. It's not one of the dramatic teen relationships where it's love at first site, and she's swooning over him. And then he's there with her, but he withdraws, and she has to chase him. There's no drama. It's very real and very personal and very realistic to how real relationships are. It's very different from the Bella and Edward relationship. They are on completely opposite side of the spectrum.
That said, I don't really know what the end result chemistry will be like. It was hard to tell from this early scene, and Four is so blunt and so rough. Perhaps when he starts getting vulnerable there will be more of a pay-off. They're certainly hinting that this is the case.
Side note: Theo James was the Turkish diplomat from Downton Abbey who falls down on Lady Mary in her bedroom. Just in case you were trying to place that face.
And for now, that's all we have to say about the visit. We also interviewed a ton of the very wily side characters (whom we enjoyed very much). We'll have more for you from the set closer to the release date.
Full Disclosure: io9's travel and lodging expenses were paid for by the Studio.