^^ See what I did there? FOUR? Get it? :D
So, wait. What? Rachel liked a movie better than a book?
Since when is that even a possibility in this universe?
It’s really rare to find a movie that exceeds the book in
my eyes. Even my very favorite movies, like Lord of the Rings and To Kill A
Mockingbird, don’t impress me as much as their novel counterparts. Then
there are some movies, like the first Hunger Games film, that outright disappoint
me when compared to the book. (Then there are things like Masterpiece Theater’s
Dracula (2007), where I’m not sure the screenwriters even read the source material.)
Divergent is a big exception to this rule. After seeing the
movie, I appreciated the intelligent concepts and creativity of the story much
more. In fact, I’m grateful to the movie for helping me like this neat story
better. It made the good parts of the story shine and buffed away some of the
rough edges that put me off in the book.
Many readers may disagree with me on this (happily, I value
divergence, so none of you will be getting a visit from the Erudite authorities).
But here, in no particular order, are the basic reasons I found myself sitting
straighter, laughing louder, and clutching the seat-arms harder than I thought
I would as I viewed this film.
Every paragraph is infested with spoilers, bee tee dubs.
Pivotal Moments Come Across With Strength
This is a big complaint I often have with book-to-movies;
some of the most important moments in the novel get watered-down onscreen and lack the
emotional punch they should have. I was so disappointed with Rue’s
flower funeral scene in Hunger Games. I literally raged at the incompetent
handling of the “I’m Not A Coward” scene between Harry and Snape in The
With Divergent, however, the effect is the opposite. Seeing
it onscreen breathed life into some of the moments that felt listless to me
while turning pages.
Take, for example, an early scene when Tris
(Beatrice) is running with her new faction, the Dauntless, to catch the
Dauntless trains for the first time. In the book, you got the idea that
this was an unruly group of teens having fun, while the new initiates scrambled
to keep up. In the movie, though, we got a heart-pounding drumbeat as Tris runs
with them. They swarm the train platform and crawl upwards. Tris is the last to
climb; will she make it before the train gets there? Then there’s that
beautiful few seconds when Tris is the only one who doesn’t realize they have
to run to catch the train. Everyone else starts off ahead of her, and for a
breathless moment, the audience worries she won’t notice. Talk about effective cinema.
I also loved the flying-from-roof scene, when the
Dauntless-born initiates hitch Tris to the sling and send her sailing from the
top of a building. This was one of my favorite concepts from the book, and I
was delighted with how the director handled it. We see Tris' joy as she begins—her
uncertainty as the cable leads through the middle of a dilapidated building—her
terror as it looks like the cable leads to a dead-end on a roof—and finally her
muster of last-minute wits as she pulls the break to keep from splattering
against the wall at the end. It’s a breathtaking little microcosm of her inner
journey from joyfully escaping Abnegation, to finding a world she doesn’t
expect, and learning how to handle it.
Additionally, action scenes usually play out better
onscreen than on the page, and this story is packed with action. The training
fights, the simulations, and the ending battles seemed more real in the theater than they did
when I read them.
Focus on the Interesting Parts
One of my main gripes about the book was how much time we
spent watching Tris and the other initiates get to know each other and struggle
through endless training sessions. Author Veronica Roth threw an awful lot of characters at
us—Eric, Peter, Al, Drew, Molly, Christina, Four, Tori, Will—and then spent the
majority of the book bouncing those character from fights to capture-the-flag to
dinner to drunken revelries to family visiting day. The string of
semi-related events didn’t feel cohesive. All the while, more interesting
concepts lurked in the background—like society’s attempt to isolate the different human characteristics that make us go bad; or the question of where bravery
and selflessness intersect; or the mystery about why Erudite is stirring up
things against Abnegation. I was fascinated by the final battle scenario, where
Tris and Four are the only “awake” Dauntless members because they’re Divergent.
But the book spent more than half its energy on the high school dynamics of Tris' initiation group, and waited too long to begin the final battle sequence.
The movie tightened its focus and paced itself better. It
gave us only the main characters to worry about. Al, Peter, Will, Molly and
Drew were in the background, allowing us to focus on Tris, Christina, Four, and
Eric. Training scenes moved quickly, and the point behind each exercise was
better explained, helping to clarify the overall trajectory of the Dauntless
program. Overall, the training stuff took up less space than in the novel.
Thanks to all these things, we were allowed to focus on
what was most important: Tris’ growing Dauntless bravery; her quest to discover
what Divergence means; the hint of government overthrow; and her growing
feelings for Four. That’s it. No mini revenge plots with Peter’s gang. No
worries about Al’s mental stability, or how to politely turn down his advances.
No obsession with rankings at every single turn. Just boom, boom, boom, one
plot point leading inevitably to the next. This allows for a greater percentage of screen time devoted
to all the exciting stuff at the end.
Writing and Dialogue Are Gone
Okay. I’m just going to say it. With all respect to the
author, some of the writing felt clunky and stiff.
I know. I know. (Hiding behind my desk chair). Please stop
throwing things. I’m sorry. Well, no, I’m not sorry, because I meant it. But
can I come out from behind my desk chair without all of you killing me?
I hesitate to nitpick over writing style because, as a
writer, I can’t imagine a more hurtful thing than for someone to say that my
prose doesn’t flow. So I wouldn’t be saying this unless I was really sure I
meant it. Although the concepts were great and this author obviously loves her
story, the writing felt amateurish.
First, clichés abound, both in the narration and dialogue.
Do people really gulp in the middle of uncomfortable sentences? Do girls really
feel physical sensations every time they interact with their crush? Does
everyone say over-used phrases like “How on earth” in conversation?
I also sensed an over-focus on active voice. Now, this is
something I can sympathize with. In my early days of novel writing (okay, let’s
be honest…up until two or three years ago) I had the importance of active voice
drilled into me by writing groups. The problem is, if you get too zealous about
this, it’s easy to see active voice as a rule rather than a tool. It can
actually start to limit the flow of what you want to write, forcing each
sentence into a little box that looks suspiciously like all the other
sentence-boxes you’ve created for the last three chapters. I’m not sure if this
is what happened to Veronica Roth, but it sure seems like it.
In the movie, however, all of this is gone, replaced by
excellent directing and stronger written dialogue. Problem solved.
and Four Are More Likeable
Fortunately, the disappearance of clunky narration also
freed me up to understand the characters better.
Tris was easier to interpret on the screen. Her book
narration, while in first person, ironically didn’t help me understand her. It seemed that her motivations and feelings were always going three directions at once, often contradicting themselves, leaving me confused about who she really was and what was at stake for her. Granted, she's supposed to be complex (Divergent, after all) but it just came across as unfocused.
In the movie, however, we have three external things to
help us interpret Tris: her dialogue, the events occurring around her, and
Shailene Woodly’s portrayal of Tris’ actions. We’ve already covered how the
dialogue improved. Woodly kept Tris consistent by maintaining some timid mannerisms
alongside growing determination and confidence. Beyond that, we see clearly
what’s at stake in every scene, but don’t have Tris’ inner thoughts constantly
jumping to other things to confuse us.
All in all, the movement of her character development feels clean and smooth.
Likewise, Four came off better. The movie let him be
mysterious, which worked. Yet it didn’t play up the misleading appearance of
him picking on Tris, or the ambiguity of whether he’s a jerk like Eric. I found
these changes refreshing and much less condescending to the audience, since
we’ve seen enough teen fantasy stories to know that mysterious guys are usually
tender-hearted love interests in disguise. We got to enjoy simply discovering
his character piece by piece.
Did the movie get everything perfect? No. It missed the
mark on some important things. Tris' mother was never revealed to be Divergent, and her death scene was not the intentional self-sacrifice we saw in the book. The exploration of what bravery really is was mentioned all of once. And the ending gag of sticking Jeannine with her own serum was strained at best.
this was a great movie. The writing was good. The visuals were nice. The music was
right on track. And we got some great performances by actors Theo James and
Shailene Woodly. On a side note, Woodly will also be playing the lead in
another teen book-to-movie, Fault in Our Stars, due out in June.
Hazel Grace Lancaster
Hey, wait a second. It looks like there’s another main
actor in both Divergent and Fault In Our Stars.
Ansel Elgort as Caleb Prior/Augustus Waters
…I am so disturbed right now…
Labels: book-to-movie, critique, culture, fiction, movie, review, stories, writing