Review of Divergent Movie (SPOILERS)

Divergent review

If you don’t want spoilers from Divergent by Veronica Roth- book or movie… move on, this is not for you. Have you read the book and/or seen the movie and don’t mind being told a few things? Read on. Just so you know, I won’t be recapping for plot.

I went to see Divergent on its official opening day on Friday after reading the entire trilogy twice and the first book that this movie is based on 3 times. I read it for the first time last fall, after I learned there would be a movie starring Shailene Woodley coming out in 2014. Point: I’ve been reading this book for the last 6 months with Shailene in my mind as the main character, Tris. I was both excited and apprehensive, because, though the book has flaws, I really enjoyed it and wanted the movie to live up to the book.

Did it? Yes, no. The first half was, I thought, brilliant. As a book Divergent is incredibly visual, cinematic, so it’s a great choice for a movie. But to be honest, I’ve always struggled with visualizing the types of scenes that dominate this book about a dystopian post-apocolyptic society. Seeing Roth’s world recreated for me was hugely helpful and satisfying. The factions represented by their clothing choices, the sadness of the choosing ceremony (the pain of which had not occurred to me when I read the book), the train jumping, the gleeful terror of the zip-lining scene (another scene that I was not able to fully understand the impact of by only reading), it was all enticing and impressive and did all the things that a movie can do but a book cannot. 

The second half? Well… let’s come back to that later.

If you’re expecting the movie to be canonical; get over it, it’s not. There are several minor plot changes, which almost exclusively, with one notable exception, improve the story. I love Roth’s book, but after 3 readings I found a few holes, even if you’re willing to accept the world she’s created (I am). Like, really, really WHY would ANYONE WANT to join Dauntless and stay past a week? In the movie, on day one the initiates are embraced by their new faction and they lift them up in a joyous crowd-surfing moment- completely reckless and weird and Dauntless, but it shows their dedication to their faction and the people in it. A rare, soft moment among the warrior tribe. Like what is the difference between Tris’ “divergent” response to the fear simulations (saying it’s not real, and finding a way out of it with that knowledge) and what you are supposed to do (face your fear, calm yourself down). In the book, this never made sense to me. She gets in so much trouble, and yet I don’t see how she could do anything different. In the movie when she goes through Four’s fear landscape he is explaining to her that a Divergent would say “this isn’t real, so I’ll get around it” while a Dauntless would find a way to deal with the fear and stop it. It makes a lot more sense.

Overwhelmingly the changes in plot pleased me and did not bother me with 2 notable exceptions: 1) Jeanine, the Erudite leader, is present much much more in the film than in the book. In one way, it makes sense because it paints her as a more pervasive presence within their world, and she probably would be more present if she is in fact going to overthrow the government. What doesn’t make sense is how much she keeps showing up in weird places, like in the Dauntless compound, but not undercover, even showing up to the final test for initiates. In the film she’s almost revered as a societal leader, which she is, but ultimately she has little overt influence over more than her own faction, and yet in the movie it’s as if people overtly accept her as equal to Abnegation leaders, which makes her reasons for trying to overthrow the government that is in place a little confusing. All of that being said: Kate Winslet gives a beautiful and scary performance as Jeanine

2) The changes to the scene between Tris and Four where they shut down the program that forces the Dauntless to act as mindless soldiers, killing innocent Abnegation. What DOES work is seeing the program running and the reality of what the sleepwalking Dauntless soldiers are doing without knowing it, which again, didn’t really come across to me in the novel. But once Tris makes it back to the Dauntless compound, in the film instead of finding Four running the program and coaxing him out of his simulation she finds him lying in a fear simulation chair while a group of Dauntless and Erudite are running the program that’s killing Abnegation. She tries to wake him up and he fights back like he does in the book since the simulation “makes him see enemies in his friends” and she still coaxes him out of it the same as she does in the novel, but there are about 20 people in the room aware of what’s going on and WHY DO THEY LET HER STAY? Why not just kill her then and there? And why was he in a fear simulation chair in the first place? Why wasn’t he fighting out with the other Dauntless?

And what’s worse than this nonsensical plot change is the tone change. For the entire movie all the action elements feel very real, very gritty… until this scene, where it begins to feel like a very typical action movie, the hero and heroine winking at each other as they defeat their enemy, the music swelling predictably, Tris landing eye-roll inducing one-liners as she completes her task. It was borderline humorous, which of course is always ok except she is leading a rebellion, she just saw her parents die, she has killed and injured numerous people including a good friend in the last hour, and oh yeah she is sixteen! It’s a little weird to see her so gleeful in her triumphs.

All of that being said, I am excited for the second movie and to see how they handle the somewhat predictable albeit incredibly gut-wrenching plot twist of the entire series.

If you’re wondering my opinion of the performances, Shailene Woodley is great except I wish someone would have taught her how to run in battle because she looks really awkward in those moments and there are a lot of them. I have no complaints of Theo James as Four, and I’ve already told you how I feel about Kate Winslet. My movie mate thought that Peter wasn’t enough of a jerk, but I thought Miles Teller did a good job overall.

And as for the Hunger Games comparisons, I think that both novel trilogies have strengths where the others have weaknesses. For example Divergent’s plot feels more real and plausible (and thus has more impact) than The Hunger Games, but The Hunger Games themes of making sport of cruelty and violence feel a little more timely than the typical “don’t be afraid to be different” themes of Roth’s novel. I hate The Hunger Games love triangle with all my heart, but I love Tris and Four’s relationship in Divergent. As for the movies, I prefer the gritty reality painted in The Hunger Games film, and while Divergent has some beautiful moments, it feels very fake and overly produced almost airbrushed which makes it feel somehow less real than the novel. It’s not fair to compare Shailene Woodley to Jennifer Lawrence, and if you do Shailene falls in the number 2 slot except Tris does appear a bit more likable than Katniss at times, but isn’t that the point? Theo James is ten times more engaging than Josh Hutcherson as Peeta, I think, but then again I was always Team Gale (still am, no apologies), so I suppose that’s an expected opinion.

Have you read Divergent? Going to see the movie?


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