Onslaught of Book to Movie: Movie Review of “Divergent”

2014 is the year of YA novel to movie adaptations. As mentioned in a previous post, we have plenty coming out of the gate with enough dystopian angst to go around. I won’t bother to recount the novels (because reading is fundamental!) and also because my posts would be endless if I summed up every YA novel before reviewing its corresponding film.


(Movie Poster; Image Courtesy of Wikipedia)


(Book; Image Courtesy of Amazon.com)

Divergent came out on Friday, March 21, 2014. It stars Shailene Woodley, queen of the “YA novel to movie” right now. Following her stunning performance in the Oscar-nominated The Descendants with George Clooney, she has also starred in the recent Spectacular Now and will be playing the female lead in the another YA novel to movie adaptation The Fault in Our Stars set to premiere in June of this year. But this review is not to remark on Ms. Woodley’s performance.

Yes, she is the star, but when the discussing the movie with a fellow avid YA novel reader, we discovered that there was a lot of focus on Ms. Woodley’s character, Beatrice “Tris” Prior. Maybe too much?

This is a struggle with every book to movie adaptation. So many relationships in the pages, but on the screen, there is are so many constraints on time. In Divergent (2014), when compared to the novel, there are a lot of *spoiler alert* deaths. They weren’t totally unexpected but unlike the book, the viewers aren’t really connected with the deceased. Of the five scenes, Tris has with her mother (Ashley Judd), one is her death. We see even less with her father before he too dies.

Two more deaths I am finding it hard to care about are those of Candor-turned-almost-Dauntless Al, and Erudite-turned-Dauntless-turned-dead Will. Al, in both the book and novel, *spoiler alert* commits suicide after attempting to kill Tris and growing restless about his impending rejection from Dauntless. Will is the intelligent soul that is somehow able to win over the too honest Christina before a mind-control serum works its way into his brain. Under the spell, he is about to kill both Tris and her mother before Tris shoots him.

In the book, we sense Al’s desperation. He’s a horrible fighter, the other initiates from Candor are doing quite well, and now suddenly, Tris, who was at the bottom of the bracket, is now at the top. He goes along with the plan to kill Tris, then tear-eyed, apologizes for it before Tris (rightfully mad) promises to kill him the next time he comes near her. In the movie, we don’t we see this. We meet Al, hear him ask Tris for tips, see him try to push her over the edge, he apologizes, and the next shot of him is his dead body. (It actually takes a while to realize the body is Al.) The same occurs with Will. We have a few scenes of him spouting out facts before a bullet is shot at him.

The lack of connection is not just apparent in deaths. The relationship between Tris and Four is built on weak foundation in the movie. In the book, Tris has several outings with Four’s friends and small conversations with Four as well as a passage of a Four in a drunken state:

“I’d ask you hang out with us, but you’re not supposed to see me this way.”
I am tempted to ask him why he wants to hang out with him, but I suspect the answer has something to do with the bottle in his hand.
“What way?” I ask. “Drunk?
“Yeah…well, no.” His voice softens. “Real, I guess.”
“I’ll pretend I didn’t.”
“Nice of you.” He puts his lips next to my ear and says, “You look good, Tris.”
His words surprise me,and my heart leaps. I wish it didn’t, because judging by the way his eyes slide over mine, he has no idea what he’s saying. I laugh. “Do me a favor and stay away from the chasm, okay?”
“Of course.” He winks at me. (Can’t remember the page, but here’s its source)

In the movie, Four seems to go from being an uptight instructor and giving Tris small tips to showing her his fears to kissing her outright. Then, on-screen, after the small make-out session, Tris has the nerve to say, “I just don’t want to move too fast.” Too late, missy!

All in all, the movie wasn’t bad. I could go on and on about downplayed meanings of Tris’s tattoos, how movie Peter (Miles Teller) is much nicer than book Peter, and the alteration of certain plot points (Capture the Flag, anyone?) but I feel the need to point out good parts of the film as well.

It is quite refreshing to see such a well-casted group of people on-screen. Even though he didn’t much screen-time, Ansel Elgort was great was Tris’s older brother Caleb (which means his acting skills will be put to the test when he plays Woodley’s boyfriend in The Fault in Our Stars and then Tris’s brother again in the Divergent sequel). This probably goes without saying but Kate Winslet was delightfully evil, annoying, and brilliant as Erudite leader Jeanine.

I feel neutral about this movie. It was decent, even if you didn’t read the book. I’d give it three stars out of five, and advise parents to get a babysitter and depressed teens to sit it out. It’s a great movie, but  its violence (complete with triggers and allusions to abuse) may be sensitive to some viewers.


2 thoughts on “Onslaught of Book to Movie: Movie Review of “Divergent”

  1. etenn says:

    Thanks for the review! The transition from book to movie has always been hard, especially I think for movies like this that fall into the young adult category. Do you think that the downplaying of relationships in this movie was sacrificed for the more fast-paced action packed scenes or do you think that the relationships in the novel itself were downplayed, translating to a similar effect of the big screen?

    • I’d definitely agree with the former not the latter. While the action and fighting was important in the novel, the driving force behind the plot and, ironically enough, the action as well, was based on Tris’s search for her identity, which was based on her relationships with Four, her family, her faction, and new friends. Because of this, much of the novel was Tris’s thoughts and emotions in regards to certain events, which I can see how that would be boring in a movie (maybe this is why they focused so much on the action?), but I hope there is some way to find some balance between the two, especially in the upcoming movies in the series.

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