Movie Review: Divergent

Divergent is a movie that I had been eagerly anticipating for quite some time – even if it has been quite a while since I read the book. On the way to the theater, my friends and I were discussing the scenes that we were excited to see and, in my case, the actors that we were excited to swoon over. As we were leaving the show, discussion turned to what we liked/disliked and what we wished they had included. After a day of organizing my thoughts on the matter, I’ve found that I didn’t love the movie, but I also didn’t dislike it… which makes this review somewhat difficult to write.

For those of you who haven’t seen the movie yet, this review will likely be spoiler-filled, so please use your discretion if you decide to keep reading beyond this point!

Divergent takes place in a dystopian society – specifically in the remnants of war-torn Chicago. Society is organized into five factions: Abnegation, which extols the virtues of selflessness; Candor, which values honesty; Amity, which represents peace and kindness; Erudite, which values knowledge and learning; and Dauntless, which values bravery and courage. At the age of 16, inhabitants undergo an aptitude test that determines which faction they are best suited for and, shortly afterwards,are able to choose the faction that they would like to spend the rest of their lives in. However, for individuals like our protagonist, Tris Prior, representing the values of only one faction may be more difficult than expected…

One aspect where Divergent excelled was the visual effects. From the fields that Amity care for to the large, rusted Ferris wheel, everything was incredibly well-done. Some scenes perfectly matched what I had pictured while reading (like the Ferris wheel) while others were interpreted in completely different ways (like the pit in the Dauntless headquarters… or the Dauntless areas in general). Despite this, they all meshed together nicely to create the perfect dystopian Chicago setting.

Another factor that I absolutely adored was the soundtrack. While aesthetics are often the first thing that one thinks of in regards to a film, a well-chosen soundtrack is instrumental in evoking and amplifying the emotions that the actors are portraying. During several pivotal scenes, Ellie Goulding’s beautiful voice was the only sound, and the emotional reaction that it garnered differed dramatically: Dead in the Water set the mood for Tris and Four’s first kiss, while Beating Heart‘s haunting tones closed the film alongside Tris’ voice over. Her music was an external representation of Tris’ emotions and thoughts, and I thought they were perfectly chosen.

As for the characters, they were very hit and miss with me. I have never really been a fan of Shailene Woodley’s acting, especially after seeing The Secret Life of the American Teenager, and unfortunately Divergent did not change my opinion on that matter. Thankfully, I wasn’t the black sheep in my friends group in regards to this: my roommate’s only response to Shailene as Tris was “well… she has really pretty eyes.” A lot of critics have praised her acting as being “subtle,” which it must have been since she came across as very wooden – even during her most emotional scenes. As a result, a lot of scenes (such as Will’s death) lacked the emotional impact that they had in the book, and served to distance me from her has a character. Tris’ growth and development was one of my favourite portions of Divergent, as I really enjoyed reading about her journey of self-discovery and empowerment. This was definitely evident in the film, however I can’t help but feel that she grew too strong: for a girl who is advised that she should utilize her speed to her advantage in a fight since she lacks upper body strength, she certainly should not have been able to throw around guys who are easily twice her size – even if it does add dramatic effect during fight scenes.

Theo James was an excellent Four. At first, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the fact that he look so old compared to Tris, however his delivery definitely made up for that fact. His chemistry with Shailene was evident in their romantic scenes – which, thankfully, weren’t as numerous as in the book.

In the books, the other initiates were  important and I grew to care about or sympathize with them all – with the exception of Peter, of course. That attachment made it so much easier for me to feel for the characters: as they succeeded, I was so proud of them; as tragic events befell them, I was sad for them. In the movie adaptation of Divergent, however, the secondary characters – or everyone who wasn’t Tris – received very little screen time or development. If I hadn’t read the books, I definitely wouldn’t have realized that Christina and Will were in a relationship, that Peter even had a name, or that the Dauntless born initiates like Uriah were actually quite a lot of fun. This lack of emotional attachment made it hard to view these characters as people; instead, they were only important in relation to Tris, and were either her acquaintances or her competition. As a result, events that I vividly remembered from the book because of the emotional impact that they had – namely Al’s suicide and Will’s death – didn’t faze me at all.

As with every book-to-movie adaptation, certain liberties were taken with the plot, and scenes were either added or left out. The bibliophile in me was mostly satisfied with how accurate the movie was, however there were a few key scenes that I took issue with.

My biggest disappointment may have been the exclusion of Edward – and, by extension, the fact that the scene where he gets stabbed in the eye with a butter knife was not included. Other scenes definitely did show how awful Peter was, and just how far initiates were willing to go to make sure that they had a place in Dauntless, however I’m still bitter that that scene was cut.

Another scene that I was uncomfortable with was during Tris’ fear landscape. In the movie, it appeared as though she had a fear of being raped by Four, when the book made it clear that her fear was intimacy. There are many ways to be intimate, and sex isn’t necessarily the only way of doing so. It has prompted excellent discussion on the importance of consent, however, so I suppose I can forgive that oversight.

On a completely shallow note, Jai Courtney made an excellent Eric. Gone was the greasy black hair and scary amount of piercings that book-Eric possessed, and in its place was the ridiculously attractive individual on the left. And that, my friends, is a change that I was definitely okay with. Even if my friend kept calling him “punk rock Macklemore” throughout the entire movie.

There were several other small changes that I really enjoyed, including the substitution of paintball guns during Capture the Flag to the use of weapons that simulated the pain of a real gunshot wound (but don’t worry, that pain only lasted for a few minutes). It was just so Dauntless that it was perfect.

Overall, I enjoyed Divergent for the most part. The action and scenery were spot on, but the characterization was lacking and that somewhat dampened my experience. Despite that, I’ll likely be in line for Insurgent when it comes out – especially if my favourite bad guy makes an appearance.

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  • Wow fantastic review. I too kept waiting for the scene with Edward, especially since he plays such an important role in the second book. I liked the movie, but it definitely left a lot out. The emotion fell flat in a lot of the story.

    • Thanks! I heard that they had filmed the scene and everything, so I was surprised that they had cut it. I hope that they’ll include it as a flashback of sorts in Insurgent though, since the other alternative is having a different factionless individual take on Edward’s role. I’m glad you enjoyed it overall! 🙂

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