This book to film comparison contains spoilers.
Very rarely do I see a movie more than once when it’s in cinemas but I’ve now seen Divergent three times. I’m a bit in love and it’s not just because I deeply admire Tris’s Dauntless fashion.
In a world divided by factions based on virtues, Tris learns she’s Divergent and won’t fit in. When she discovers a plot to destroy Divergents, Tris and the mysterious Four must find out what makes Divergents dangerous before it’s too late.
Whenever I hear that a book I enjoy is being turned into a movie, I’m immediately crippled with fear and I start to wonder about the casting and the director and basically everything. The script is one of my biggest worries because making a novel into a feature-length Hollywood blockbuster usually means a lot of stuff has to get cut.
As it turns out, the cast was amazing and Shailene Woodley wonderfully portrays Tris’s insecurities, flaws, and strengths. Something my friend Elke pointed out (after my second viewing) was that, although you quite like Tris in the books, there seems to be a sort of disconnect and you’re not completely in her mind. Maybe it’s because Tris is constantly examining every aspect of her personality and trying to figure out who she is as a person; I find it easier to jump into a character’s mind when they know exactly who they are. But after seeing Tris on screen all of that disconnect went away and I absolutely started to feel like I was with her on this journey.
The cast have talked a little about the struggle to find someone that perfectly embodies the masculinity and emotions of Four and I think Theo James has the character down-pat.
Kate Winslet is superb as Jeanine, embodying that ruthless intelligence and dedication to her cause in a way that almost makes it seem completely rational until you remember that she’s a crazy person. There were several scenes inserted or altered to better establish Jeanine’s motivation and goals but they fit comfortably in the context of the story and added necessary depth to the character for an on screen appearance.
I’m not familiar with Neil Burger as a director but I’m a fan of anyone that doesn’t try and manhandle a film into a vehicle for their own directorial style and instead lets the story speak for itself. Also, bonus points for not using (a) an insane amount of nausea-inducing shaky camera work that makes you feel like you’re ‘in the action’ and (b) way too many unnecessary and extreme close ups. There are plenty of close-ups in this movie, don’t get me wrong. But I never felt like I was about to crawl up anyone’s nostril.
The costume department deserves a round of applause for every single article of clothing in this movie. Each faction had their own dominant colours but it was never uniform or boring – even Abnegation had a subtle sense of individuality while still embodying the simplicity of their faction.
I think my favourites were the deep blue hue of Erudite and the sheer awesomeness of the Dauntless outfits as a whole. I’ve already mentioned my love for Tris’s Dauntless pants. In this article from On Screen Style, costume designer Carlo Poggioli talks about his process for creating the costumes and also about Lionsgate probably making a fashion line, which gives me hope that maybe one day I will be united with those Dauntless pants in real life.
I’ve been listening to the score and the soundtrack for the last week and I’m in love with it. My favourite track is Choosing Dauntless but I also really liked the subtle vocal stuff from M83 in the zip-line scene and from Ellie Goulding throughout the rest of the movie. Read more about the decision to have Ellie Goulding as the featured vocalist in this article.
With recent successful film adaptations like The Book Thief and Catching Fire, screenwriters seem more inclined to work straight from the source material rather than using it as a basic reference. You can’t please everyone and certain changes do need to be made to accommodate the different mediums of storytelling but we seem to be getting closer and closer to more accurate adaptations. I looked up who was responsible for the Divergent screenwriting and came across Evan Daugherty, whose writing background seems to be largely action-movie type things so I decided he was probably responsible for making sure all the cool action stuff made it into the script.
I was surprised and pleased to see that the other screenwriter (Vanessa Taylor) has worked on Game of Thrones as both a writer and a co-executive producer which means that making faithful and accurate page to screen transitions is basically her job. Given that Game of Thrones is an epic TV show and Divergent is a feature-length movie, the script had to do some trimming and reworking of the plot and structure to make everything flow better on screen; however, I think it was pretty darn accurate and the things that were missing or altered made a lot of sense to me.
I think the best way to judge whether a film adaptation can stand on its own is by watching it with someone completely new to the fandom and seeing how well they understand it. My first time seeing the movie was with my friends Rhiain (who has read the books) and Clarissa (who hasn’t read the books and turned to Rhiain 10 minutes in and demanded she borrow them ASAP). Clarissa loved the movie and never once needed someone to explain what was happening or how the character dynamics or societal structure worked – something that can happen if a movie relies on existing fans to make connections and forgets that newcomers need time to take it all in.
I waited until after I’d seen the movie to read Divergent again and, when rereading it, noted all the differences I could find so that I could make comparisons.
Combining second and third stages
I think it was a good choice to combine the second and third stages of Dauntless initiation training. The second stage (simply facing your fears in simulation and learning to calm down) tested emotions. Apart from that and showing Tris’s ability to manipulate simulations, the overall goal of the second and third stages was the same: face your fears with a calm and level head. The movie made this pretty clear with a combination of both stages and still put emphasis on Tris’s ability to manipulate situations, making it an obstacle for her to overcome rather than just a way for her to get out of simulations quicker.
I think maybe including some more progressive rankings to exhibit how much Tris had improved might have been useful to see the extent of her excelling. It would also have, as in the book, provided a catalyst for Peter to try and throw her in the chasm.
Smaller focus group of initiates
IMDb tells me that the dude I thought was Uriah was actually called Ezra, so my thrill at seeing him on screen was short-lived. I can understand why they cut Uriah and the other Dauntless-born; there are already a lot of characters introduced in a short space of time and adding more to the mix might have been too much, especially when the Dauntless-born and the transfers were kept separate for most of the book anyway.
Edward and Myra are credited and they flash before the screen a couple of times (Edward was the one with the ‘No one has ever stood up to [Eric]’ line and also the guy that helped pull Christina back up when she was hanging over the chasm) but Drew doesn’t make an appearance.
Peter was still an asshole but he wasn’t an eye-stabbing asshole like in the book so I guess he didn’t need a lackey like Drew – although that does make me wonder who the third person was that attacked Tris. She doesn’t seem overly concerned about finding out who else might want to throw her in a chasm.
Molly still had a prominent role. She could potentially have been cut for the same reasons as Drew but I think keeping her character served as a reminder that Tris and Christina weren’t just getting beat up by boys, which would have seemed really unfair.
Less focus on Tris’s friendships
I really would have liked to see more of Tris’s friendships in the movie. That gorgeous moment when Tris is in pain and Christina ties Tris’s shoes for her would have made a huge difference and really cemented them as being close friends and not just good-ish friends.
Also, having a few small references to Al’s crush on Tris would have given Al’s death more impact than it carried in the movie. Speaking of Al’s death, maybe mention the funeral? Or that they buried him or something? He got pulled out of the river and then Tris was so busy going through fear landscapes and making out with Four that she just totally forgot that her friend died.
Less relationship build-up between Tris and Four
There were plenty of glances and comments but there was a lack of the hand holding, Drunk Four’s compliments, and Four generally taking an obvious interest in Tris. Some of his lines in the dining hall about the plainness of Abnegation food were even redistributed to Christina, Will, and Al to keep Four more aloof and untouchable. While I loved the FourTris moments in the book, I think seeing them on screen might have made it too obvious that Four had a soft spot for Tris. This way, the movie made him, at times, seem like a genuine threat and made Tris all the more reluctant to reveal her Divergence to him.
In the book, the age difference between Four and Tris is made clear: Tris is 16 years old and Four is 18. The movie doesn’t worry about including age; there’s no need because Four and Tris look age appropriate for each other and their chemistry works well. It’s a lot easier, in the book, to accept that a relationship would be unknown territory to an 18-year-old recent transfer from Abnegation. With Four looking a bit older than that in the movie, it’s harder to assume that he wouldn’t have had some kind of relationship since his transfer, which is possibly why the detailed conversation about their boundaries and expectations was cut from the movie. The ground was still covered by one tiny and awesome moment when Tris said, ‘I don’t want to go too fast.’
As a confused teenager, you have to be pretty brave to disregard social norms in a foreign environment, take into account your own boundaries and also put those boundaries in place. Mostly because if you’re kissing someone for the first time and everything is new and awesome and the dude is not wearing a shirt and looks like Theo James, your mind is probably not totally clear so kudos to Tris for setting boundaries in place straight up. Kudos also goes to the screenwriters, the director, and Theo James for not letting Four smirk, laugh, or in any way make it seem like Tris was stupid or inexperienced for saying that when they had only just shared their first kiss. ‘It’s okay. I still have my spot in the floor’ is maybe what made me go from admiring to completely in love with Four’s character in the movie.
Some people might have also noticed that Tris told Four she loved him while he was under the simulation as a kind of forgiveness for the actions he couldn’t control. In another change, Four didn’t profess his love on the train at the end of the book. Personally, I think the end of the movie was spot-on. Tris was clearly still dealing with her parents’ deaths and was so confused and worried about what her life would be like; she didn’t need Four telling her he loved her because his actions made it abundantly clear.
Tris’s fear landscapes
Tris had fewer fears in the movie and they were also slightly altered. One thing I never got about the book was why her fear about everyone finding out she was Divergent never came up at a totally inconvenient time and ruined everything for her. I guess that could be attributed to one of her many ‘loss of control’ fears: the crows seemed like a loss of control; being bound while the field around you burns seemed like a loss of control; being trapped in a water tank also seemed like a loss of control (although I prefer to go literal and assume it was a fear of drowning and then attribute it to her fear of being flung down the chasm).
The movie version of the intimacy situation was a bit more rapey and therefore came across as a loss of control as well. Tris shooting her family was more straightforward because of the inserted conversation with Jeanine in the Erudite headquarters but it also eliminated the way that Tris, in the book, was ready to sacrifice herself for her family rather than kill them.
Since most of the fears came across as a loss of control, how much easier would it have been if Tris could just hone in on her fear and compact that into one scenario? Whittle it down to control, intimacy, and shooting your family and Four can stop being the prodigy because you’ve got this, girl. Three fears for you, Glen Coco.
I think it may have helped viewers to have that small explanation from Four about the fact that the fears aren’t always literal. There was a large contrast between Tris’s abstract fears and Four’s specific fears of heights, small spaces, being a murderer, and his abusive father and that contrast might have been cleared up with a simple, ‘I’ve gone through this so many times that I’ve figured out exactly what my fears mean so I’m not in weird fields with giant boats in them.’
For me, those are the things that either worked really well or could have made so much more sense with a tiny tweak. But, since we can’t have everything and I still love the movie, I’m okay with it. If the movie were completely perfect, I wouldn’t read the book again and be able to fall in love with the intricacies that didn’t make it to the screen.
The verdict: Divergent is a film adaptation that can stand on its own and provide an audience with a comprehensive understanding of the world that Veronica Roth created. I recommend it for both fans and newcomers alike.