“I feel more like myself. That is all I need: to remember who I am. And I am someone who does not let inconsequential things like boys and near-death experiences stop her.”
Based on Veronica Roth‘s young adult dystopian novel and directed by Neil Burger, Divergent is set in a world divided by factions that are based on virtues. Daughter of a family in the selfless Abnegation faction, Tris (Shailene Woodley) is faced with the decision of remaining with her family or transferring to a new faction, in an annual event where all sixteen year old’s must take an aptitude test and choose their future. But when Tris learns that she is a Divergent, meaning that she will never fit into a single group, she is forced to change the way her mind works and attempt to fit in with the rest of her new faction, the ruthless Dauntless, and to hide her secret from her leaders who see being Divergent as a threat.
The following post is a review of the film adaptation in comparison to the book. You can read my review of the book on its own here.
Set in a dystopian post-apocalyptic version of Chicago, Divergent begins with a beautiful shot spanning over a run-down city, as Tris narrates the city’s history and how its government formed, explaining the five factions and commenting that she doesn’t know where she belongs. It’s a really great opening; the calm narrative and fluid camera movements contrast with visually striking imagery, giving you all of the information needed to introduce you to this new world without being too over the top or confusing.
The structure of this film works so well, having the aptitude tests, choosing ceremony, and then the initiation processes, slowly building up to something much bigger as we take our time understanding the dystopian premise and the characters’ place within it. The revelation of Tris being Divergent happens only ten minutes in, so the pace is set quite quickly and it all gets more action-packed from then on.
Divergent exceeded my expectations for many reasons, but what gripped me most of all was the way it explored the emotion of fear. A dystopia is defined as an imagined, unpleasant place, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one, so fear has to play a big part in the society to make it believable.
George Orwell‘s 1984 has the infamous Room 101, whereas Divergent sees members of the Dauntless faction tested in a ‘fear landscape’ to see how well they deal with their personal fears. Having the constant threat of Tris’ indifference being discovered running through the whole plot, as well, gives us something to fear for ourselves, engaging the audience from the very beginning.
Roth doesn’t sugar-coat her dystopia. The book is notably more violent and some of the characters are much more threatening, but her story doesn’t shy away from conflict. Unlike The Hunger Games franchise, Divergent has a less violent premise in general, but the harsh realities are shown to their extremes with proper fight scenes and the use of blood.
And that’s how it should be. Totalitarian regimes try to act as if they’re doing things for the greater good, but maintaining control comes with many sacrifices. Here, people have their alternative motives, and they’re not nice to others just because they want to be in the same faction, showing that even friendships can be torn apart when people are fighting for what they want.
Of course, being based on a young adult novel, there’s the romantic distraction, too, seen here between Woodley and co-star Theo James (Four). The romance fits in quite well, however, as Four is unlikable for a large part of the film. Seeing Tris and Four’s relationship develop in this way means that, whilst the romance is to be expected, it never feels too sentimental or unnecessary.
All of this is complemented by a brilliant soundtrack, especially with the use of the track ‘Woodkid by Run Boy Run’ throughout the whole film, and excellent visuals. Many of the scenes from the book may have been changed in this adaptation (all of which I will go into further down), but many of them look pretty spectacular on the big screen. The scene of Tris zip-lining across the city, especially, is amazing.
As for the performances, Woodley is exceptional. We all saw how brilliant she was in her breakout role in The Descendants, but she proves herself even more so here. She’s definitely one to watch out for, whether it be in another action, a drama, or with a better focus on romance.
The only casting choice I found a little odd was that of Ansel Elgort as Tris’ brother, Caleb. It’s great to have Elgort involved in the series but, with the two having led the young adult cancer romance, The Fault In Our Stars, as lovers, it was slightly uncomfortable to see their brother-sister relationship here.
Nevertheless, Divergent also boasts excellent performance from the brilliant leading ladies, Kate Winslet and Ashley Judd, as well as up-and-coming teen actors Zoë Kravitz, Miles Teller, Elgort, and Skins star Ben Lloyd-Hughes.
Differences From The Book:
My experience of Divergent was that I watched the film first and loved it, went on to read the novel, and my opinion of the film lowered somewhat. The book is a fantastic young adult novel and a brilliant dystopia, and the film is highly enjoyable, but, comparing the two, they are very different and a lot more happens in the book.
Here are some of the main changes, in chronological order:
- Four is 18 in the book, but he’s 24 in the film.
- In the book, the Prior’s do not talk to Jeanine at the Choosing Ceremony, and we don’t meet her until much later on. This change in the film is good as it allows us to meet Jeanine earlier, and she gives a great speech to Tris about choosing the right faction.
- In the book, Tris’ aptitude test takes place in a school cafeteria, not in a mirror-walled room. In the film, she tells herself to choose between a knife or slab of meat, whereas it is an unknown voice who tells her to choose between a knife or a block of cheese in the book. There’s also a following scene in the book where Tris is approached by a stranger on a bus, which doesn’t happen in the film.
- When the initiates jump off the train for the first time, a girl falls to her death in the book. It’s understandable why they leave this out of the film, but they could have mentioned it, at least.
- Uriah isn’t properly introduced in this instalment, he only has a small role and we do not know his name. Lynn, Zeke, Shana, and Marlene are not included at all, even though they all play big roles in the following instalments, too.
- Drew and Myra are also not included, but that doesn’t make too much difference.
- When the initiates arrive at Dauntless, Tris burns her clothes in the film but, in the book, she holds on to them.
- In the book, Peter gashes out Edward’s eye to secure the No.1 spot on the leaderboard, but this is left out of the film, presumably because it was too gruesome, though this is something else that could have been mentioned.
- Peter is not as much of a brute in the film, nor is Molly. They are seen taunting Tris quite often, but there’s a scene in the book where Peter steals her towel after coming out of the shower, and he also gropes her during his attack. Again, it’s understandable why they didn’t play on this too much, but Miles Teller adds so much comedic value to Peter’s character that it’s difficult to dislike him.
- Tris gets two tattoos in the book, but only one in the film (although two can be seen on her).
- After losing her fight, Tris is not kicked out of the faction in the book, and is allowed to play Capture The Flag. I did like this change in the film, however, as it saw Tris stick up for herself and take control, which is what we needed from her character.
- During Capture The Flag, the teams use paintballs instead of darts in the book.
- In the book, Christina takes the glory of capturing the flag for herself, believing that Tris has already had enough praise off of their leaders. In the film, they reach for the flag together, having no conflict arisen.
- In the book, Uriah asks Tris to go zip-lining after Edward has been stabbed to cheer her up. Since we do not see this stabbing, Uriah asks her after playing Capture The Flag.
- In the film, Tris has to pull a break on the zip line, whereas she is caught by the other initiates in the book.
- Visiting Day doesn’t happen in the film. In the book, this is where Tris’ mum asks her to go see Caleb but, instead, her mum has to sneak in to see Tris.
- When Tris has to face her fears, she has 7 in the book, but only 5 in the film. I assume this was just to save some time, but these were my favourite scenes in the film so it would have been nice to see them all.
- In Four’s fears landscape, the woman he shoots is not seen in the book, whereas he has to shoot Tris in the film.
- When Tris is attacked in the book, she pulls Peter’s mask off, not Al’s, recognising Al by his smell.
- In Tris’ fear landscape in the book, when she is asked to shoot her family, she drops her gun and says “Shoot me instead” but, in the film, she shoots them.
- When Four and Tris are captured in the book during the Abnegation attack, Jeanine sends Tris off to be executed and puts her in a tank full of water, just like in her fear landscape, none of which happens in the film. It is here that she is saved by her mother but, in the film, Jeanine takes Four with her and tells the Dauntless soldiers to kill Tris outside. Her mother then shoots the guards, having been hiding in a field.
- In the book, Four shuts down the system that is controlling the Dauntless, but Tris makes Jeanine shut it down whilst under a serum in the film.
This is definitely another young adult franchise to keep an eye on. I would suggest that you read the books first because there’s a lot that the film misses out on, but it’s an excellent franchise to get into, nonetheless.