Book Versus Film: 8 Reasons DIVERGENT Works As Both

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THE STORY

DIVERGENT is  set in a future world where society has been divided into five distinct factions. But Tris will never fit into any one group – she is Divergent, and what makes her different makes her dangerous.

Targeted by a faction leader determined to eliminate all Divergents, Tris turn to the one person she believes she can trust: Four, an instructor for the militant Dauntless faction, and a man full of dark secrets. Together, Tris and Four uncover a mind-bending conspiracy that will put their courage to the ultimate test and forever link their destinies.

As dystopian YA goes, Divergent is probably my favourite. I love how Roth has ‘translated’ very sophisticated themes of belonging, being and psyche for teenagers into her system of factions. The notions of five ‘types’ of people – Abnegation (the selfless); Erudite (the knowledge seekers); Amity (the warm); Candour (honesty) and Dauntless (the brave) is an inspired way to show young people that putting yourself into pigeonholes is NOT necessarily the best way to go. After all, who wants to be only ONE of these things?? Yet in the context of this story, it makes perfect sense that a society would try and rebuild itself in this way … and why it would go hopelessly wrong.

Now, on to my SPOILERIFIC comparison of the book and the film …

THE BOOK

divergent_book_by_veronica_roth_us_hardcover_2011What I loved about Divergent as a book was its adherence to telling the story via solid action all the way through. From the opening, with Tris’ mother cutting her hair, through to her blood on the coals at The Choosing Ceremony; or jumping from the trains with the rest of The Dauntless, Divergent is relentlessly visual throughout.

What’s more, Tris is not your ‘average’ teen, either. She admits she can be selfish and sometimes out for number one. She is not admired for her poise or beauty, because she doesn’t have any: I get the impression she is plain, nothing special to look at, though it’s her open personality that draws others to her, like Christina. Also, though Tris may be an outsider,  the fact she is Abnegation too marks her out as a ‘do-gooder’ (the others’ derogatory name for her is ‘Stiff’), rather than the customary ‘freak’.

Her relationship with Four is authentic, with a ‘will they, won’t they’ aspect not built out of mind games, but realistic misunderstandings. We all know Four is divergent too really, but it’s inevitable, rather than predictable. The moment when they clasp hands during the march of Dauntless on Abnegation is brilliant.

Tris admits her fears, rather than lives in denial. She is open and honest with the reader about both how much she hates antagonist Peter, but fears him as well: he features in her fear landscapes more than once, yet throughout the book she never lets him get one over on her.

Her relationship with her friends is well-rounded: she goes from loving the company of Christina, Will and Al, through to feeling hurt, scolded and even betrayed by them. In these cases she hangs out with the Dauntless-born like Uriah and discovers she may have more in common with them, which leads nicely into Tris’ discovery her mother was Dauntless-born, too. It’s brilliant that it’s her mother, not her father, who tries to rescue Tris from Dauntless when Erudite sets them on the Abnegation.

Overall, Divergent is a five star read for me. You can read my Goodreads review, HERE.

THE MOVIE

DIVERGENT

First things first, DIVERGENT overall is an extremely faithful adaptation. This is common for very popular properties, where audiences just won’t stand for too many deviations from the plot or characters. Happily, because of DIVERGENT’s relentlessly visual pace in the book, it mostly translates well to the screen. (Critics were rather unanimous in panning the film, but since audiences – the important ones – apparently mostly liked it, I don’t think we have to worry about that).

Rather than list what makes it through then, it’s easier to say what was different:

1) Tris is roughly how I imagined her, though she is not blonde like in the book. This is Hollywood, after all: Shailene Woodley is not unattractive, but she is not the drop dead gorgeous type either and they do a good job of making her unremarkable, especially when she’s in her Abnegation clothes. We don’t have access to her thoughts like the book, so certain things need spelling out: unlike the book, Eric cuts her from Dauntless after Tris’ disastrous first fight with Peter. In the movie, she decides not to accept and runs after the train, clambering on. Impressed by her chutzpah, Eric gives her one more chance.

2) The faction system is explained very well. Unlike the book that dripfeeds the worldbuilding, movie audiences demand to know where they “are” in the story world immediately. There’s a very short voiceover courtesy of Tris (which is reprised at the end) and we see all the factions in action, which is the obvious and dramatically satisfying choice. Most usefully, we see Tris as a child running in her grey abnegation clothes after Dauntless, planting the idea she has always liked the look of Dauntless. I didn’t really get the feel of this in the book from Tris, so her choice at The choosing Ceremony seemed quite random to me.

3) Jeanine, the Erudite leader, is played upfront. This was an excellent decision as she comes in very late in the book. This works fine there, but screenwriting has different conventions: if Jeanine is to be the biggest problem for Tris (which she is), she needs to be set up so she can pay off later. What I thought the movie did better than the book here was making Jeanine seem almost reasonable, especially trying to make friends with Tris (“Can I count on you?”), then by talking of her reasons for wanting Erudite in charge, trying to make out she is only doing what is ‘needed’. In the book, their reasons seem much more selfish.

4) Four is perfect. He is played by Theo James and is not an actor I recognise but he was the perfect choice: he ‘looks’ just like I imagined him when reading the book. He’s more of an overt mentor in the film than in the book, taking Tris specifically into his fear landscape to train her. Besides being troubled and a loner, he never once comes off as dangerous or bad for Tris, which I really like.

5) Eric – hate him! (Which is good). Eric is played by Jai Courtney and again, a perfect casting choice. He’s arrogant and has lots of swagger. His place in the narrative is played up in the movie, just as Jeanine’s is – not surprising, given they were want more meatier parts for stars like him and Kate Winslet. As a result, the grudge match between Eric and Four is played up and this works especially well during the Capture The Flag sequence. It’s a shame we lose Eric’s backstory with the Erudite here as it means we don’t really know why he’s going along with it, but then we figure he’s an arsehole who wants power so it all works out.

6) Peter is not as much a problem to Tris in the film as in the book. I think this was a good decision overall (this needed to happen to ‘make room’ for the other antagonistic force, Jeanine), though it does mean Tris does not appear as vulnerable, or as stoic (as when she cleans Edward’s blood top in the dorm).

7) Al takes a backseat. This means his betrayal and subsequent suicide lack impact in my opinion, which is a shame. Uriah’s part is also cut right back. That said, Tris having to kill Will works well and the addition of Christina being one of the zombie soldiers on the TV screens in the control room was inspired. You can’t have every little thing in an adapted movie, especially when it comes to secondary characters, so swings and roundabouts.

8) The ending is SO MUCH better in the movie! The ending deviates rather considerably from the source material and I think it’s much better for it. In the book, Tris fights her way back to the control room and finds only Four, his mind taken over by Jeanine’s zombie serum, guarding the simulation. YEAH RIGHT! Who starts a plan for societal domination and only leaves a newly-brain-fried minion watching over the computer?? And apparently there isn’t Dropbox in the future either, cos they steal the hard drive and there are no back ups! WTAF.

It was the ONE element of the story I wasn’t keen on, so I was delighted to see they fix this in the movie. Here, Tris gets back to the control room, tries to rescue Four and he beats her as he does in the book. But in comparison, Jeanine and her other Erudite leaders are there too. Like in the book, Tris turns the gun on herself, but she tells Four she loves him and that it’s okay, ‘waking’ him up. They then take on the rest of the baddies in the control room and use Jeanine’s zombie serum against her, so she’ll turn the simulation off and wipe the whole thing. YAY!

CONCLUDING

Okay, the movie wasn’t the best ever adaptation I’ve seen and it was a shame Tris came across as less complex. But ultimately, critics be damned.  It was nice to see newcomers in the roles instead of established stars, the set pieces worked well and there was some good action. Divergent had everything I wanted as a movie, just like the book did.

Which did you prefer – DIVERGENT as a book, or a film? Or did you like both? Let us know in the comments! 

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