Divergent | 2014
OK, this is not The Hunger Games. But it is a post-apocalyptic urban dystopia with society divided into factions and a bunch of young adults adopting survivalist mode to challenge a controlling elite. Apart from that, it’s not The Hunger Games.
Where the film scores is in replacing Games’s extravagantly Baroque ruling class with stern technocrats and setting the action in a grubby, festering, post-war Chicago Loop, using plenty of real Windy City locations, scruffed down and weedy with CGI.
This society is divided into supposedly cooperative factions, each concentrating on a different set of virtues: Erudite, Abnegation, Candor, etc … and, although children are born into these classes, they’re given one single, irreversible opportunity to change. Beatrice/Tris (Shailene Woodley) is born into Abnegation, a culture of selfless helpers.
The modest Abnegation village, identical grey cube units laid out regularly on a patch of green in the heart of the city, was built for real. The pocket of land, on South Wells Street at the southwest corner of West Harrison Street alongside the Chicago River, was fortuitously up for sale, so in the meantime the production was able to building the 16 temporary structures within the shadow of the Willis Tower, the Hub.
The interior of Tris’s family house was built, along with several other interiors, on soundstages at Cinespace Film Studios, 2621 West 15th Place, which served as home base to the production. Opened in 2011 on the site of a former steelworks, Cinespace is still growing and on completion at 1.5 million feet is expected to rank as the largest complex of soundstages in the US, outside of Hollywood.
The young people of Chicago stand in line for the first of several tests, designed to reveal which faction will best suit them, before five doorways which were added to the Equitable Building on the east side of Pioneer Court Plaza. That’s the open space near the Michigan Avenue Bridge, beneath the famous Wrigley Building and Tribune Tower, which houses the artsy statue of Shakespeare’s King Lear.
Tris’s test proves inconclusive, indicating that she may be – gasp! – Divergent. Not belonging to one particular faction, Divergents are perceived as a serious threat to the system and Tris is obliged to her status a deadly secret.
At the Choosing Ceremony, Tris surprises her family by throwing in her lot with the Dauntless, the running, jumping, hyperactive warrior faction, while her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) plumps for the brainy (and therefore in Hollywood terms, highly suspect) Erudite.
The minimal, semi-circular venue for the choosing is the Seventeenth Church of Christ Scientist, 55 East Upper Wacker Drive at North Wabash Avenue, a very '60s style church – the exterior of which you can glimpse during the climactic battle in Transformers: Dark Of The Moon.
The train car used to ride around the city was built from scratch at Cinespace and designed to be mobile enough to be taken around the various Chicago locations.
The frisky Dauntless crew is immediately off and running, shinning up the supports of the Chicago ‘el’ to the rail tracks.
Starting the climb up to the track was filmed at Wells and Monroe Streets, with the actors gingerly avoiding the electric current which couldn’t be turned off without bringing the city’s transport system to a halt. For safety reasons, the section of rail line they reach to wait for the train is a dummy built to run along the concrete canyons at South Federal Street in Printers Row.
The flat rooftop onto which the Dauntless leap is that of the Pershing Building (which was also used for the shooting range during the training sequence), one of the striking old industrial buildings on Pershing Road west of Ashland Avenue. Now largely abandoned, or just used as storage space, the 265-acre complex started life in 1905 as the Central Manufacturing District, the first purpose-built office office park in the US. Sadly, the future of these handsome buildings is uncertain.
Tris demonstrates her eagerness to be part of the team by being first to jump into the dark hole below, but the safety net in which she lands, to be coolly welcomed by the aloof Four (Theo James), is in the Midland Warehouses Building, 1500 South Western Avenue, behind the Cinespace studio, which also provided the tunnels and stairways.
The Dauntless Pit, the vast ‘quarry’ providing the subterranean domain of the faction was a set occupying almost the entire North Plant at Cinespace itself.
The dormitory, though, along with the clothing store and tattoo parlour, are the basement of the City Building back in the Pershing Road CMD, alongside which 70 feet of rail track were laid.
The Dauntless mess hall, where members of various factions meet, is the basement of the Chicago Daily Defender Building, 2400 South Michigan Avenue on the near South Side. Built in 1936 as the headquarters of the Illinois Automobile Club, the building once boasted an Olympic-size swimming pool in the basement, which was later filled in to make room for printing presses when the Chicago Defender, a weekly newspaper founded in 1905 primarily for African-American readers, acquired the building in the 1950s.
The fence around the city inspected by the kids is CGI, although a 40 foot tall, 15 foot wide wall, running about a quarter of a mile along the perimeter of an old steel factory, provided its solid base.
Knocked out in a fight, Tris nevertheless proves her mettle by fleeing her sick bed to take part in the ‘Capture the Flag’ exercise, staged at the Navy Pier, 600 East Grand Avenue, on Lake Michigan east of the Streeterville district. Climbing the pier’s Ferris Wheel – and discovering that Four has a fear of heights – Tris spots the flag atop one of the two towers flanking the grand ballroom at the end of the pier.
The 3,000 foot pier was built in 1916 (intended to be one of a pair but its partner never materialised) when Lake Michigan was used for commercial shipping. It fell into decline from the Thirties until major renovations in 1976 turned it into a major attraction, which has featured in Martin Scorsese’s The Color Of Money and Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight.
As part of the initiation rite afterwards, Tris takes a hair-raising zipline ride through a CGI rendering of the city, landing at Clark and Monroe.
Sneaking away to visit her brother Caleb in the Erudite sector, Tris discovers a whole different environment. The sparkling glass elliptical dome is the University of Chicago’s Mansueto Library, 1100 East 57th Street in Hyde Park, a state-of-the-art facility opened in 2011.
She’s discovered and taken for a meeting with Jeanine in the glass-fronted Spertus Institute, 610 South Michigan Avenue between East Balbo Avenue and East Harrison Street, across from Grant Park, where suspicions are roused and she is sternly reminded “Faction before blood”.
Jeanine’s car briskly returns Tris to her ‘rightful’ sector, along West Wacker Drive, but now a suspected Divergent, she's in serious and Four offers her shelter. His spacious loft apartment, a mezzanine with a hundred-foot window running down one side, is above the Kildare Studios, 2649 North Kildare Avenue at Schubert Avenue in the Hermosa district, northwest of the Loop.
The final and most severe test to be able to join the Dauntless takes place in the cavernous Grand Ballroom of the Navy Pier, where Tris’s darkest fears are projected on-screen for all to see. This same ballroom was the ‘Atlantic City’ venue for the Nine-ball Classic Tournament that climaxes The Color Of Money.
Those nasty Erudite, under the control of Jeanine, are indeed planning something nasty – to take over running the city using the chemically-zombiefied Dauntless as their army.
After being sent to raid the Abnegation village, Tris and Four rebel, and Tris gets to meet up with her father and brother (who’s seen the error of his ways) hiding out among the giant coils in the Basic Cable and Wire Building, 3900 North Rockwell Street.
As the Erudite are foiled, Tris, Four and their companions board the train and ride off to a sequel, Insurgent