[Storyteller’s Howl] Divergent

Monday, September 29, 2014

Every now and then, I get into the mood for a good dystopia. I’ve enjoyed in the past things as widely varied as Ender’s Game, Uglies, and even The Hunger Games. But until recently, something stopped me from reading the Divergent series by Veronica Roth.

I’m not even certain why I was hesitating to read them. Maybe I just wasn’t in a place for a dystopia. But with the recent development of our nights being spent sitting up and watching over grandma has given me a lot of time to read, so I finally picked up the trilogy.

I was sucked in by the end of the first chapter.

I tore through the first book in less than two days, and decided that I needed to see the movie too, even as I went on reading through the next two books. I finished the third book this evening, and as one of the suggestions for blog topics that I received recently was to talk about book-to-movie adaptations, I chose Divergent.


I absolutely adored the first book in the series. Normally, like I’m doing with Hunger Games, I will wait for all movies in a series to be released before I watch them. However, with Divergent, having just finished the books, I wanted to see the movie – to find out how my favorite scenes were translated to film while the book’s scenes and visuals were still fresh in my mind.

It took me two nights to get through the movie, thanks to continuous interruptions – none of which I could control – and in all honesty, I really enjoyed it. As far as book-to-movie adaptations go, some parts were practically word-for-word.

I appreciate a faithful adaptation – far more than probably anyone realizes. Seeing the Choosing Ceremony come to life in the movie was…visceral. When the Dauntless faction members leaped from the train and ran excitedly to the building for the aptitude test, I felt my heartbeat pounding in time with their feet and the music.

I had a similar reaction in the catching-the-train scene immediately following the Choosing Ceremony – and also spotted my first difference. In the book, the train was at ground level when the Dauntless caught it to head home – in the movie, it’s already on it’s elevated track and everyone has to climb the supports to get up top before they could chase the train.

This was an interesting choice – while it added a visual element to the scene to make up for the fact that we the audience weren’t privy to Tris’ thoughts as we had been in the book version, it still wasn’t exactly necessary. I was into it at the time, but looking back on it afterwards I couldn’t quite decide if I approved of the change or not.

Most of the differences between the book and the movie (check here for a more complete list) are like that, though. Little things that are thrown in to help get across the character’s thought processes because we aren’t reading them like we do when we read a book.

During a frightening kidnapping scene a bit later in the story, one of the kidnappers is revealed to be a friend of Tris’, up until that moment. The revelation is handled in the book by her recognizing his unique scent – that of lemongrass. In the movie, however, there was no easy way to get this across to the audience – therefore the decision was made for her to pull off his mask and reveal him that way.

Some scenes and even some characters are left out entirely – this is done for time, but in some cases I’m sad to lose the scene. In others, relationships are altered to be less antagonistic – there are some things you just shouldn’t show in a movie. I also couldn’t help but notice that any time people were shot in the head during the movie the wounds were never shown – nor was the aftermath other than the “out-of-focus body on the ground” shot that’s fairly generic. Whereas in the book, a lot of visceral description goes into these moments as the character experiences her first direct dealings with death.

Again, this is something I can understand – it’s done to keep the rating of the movie at PG-13. Some changes are also made to speed the story along. Family visiting day was skipped entirely in the movie – instead, the information Tris’ mother had to pass on was delivered – still by her mother – on a different occasion that didn’t exist in the book.

I suppose the biggest difference that bothered me was first in the sheer number of initiates (in the book, there’s maybe fifteen total between transfers and Dauntless-born, and in the movie there are more than twice that), and secondly in the fact that the three-step initiation process was cut down to two-steps. This was obviously done for time and to make Tris’ rise from the bottom of the ranks to the top more dramatic, but it altered the feel of the initiation process. I didn’t like it.

When it comes down to it, the differences between the book and the movie – like most adaptations – can be chocked up to everything from stylistic choices on the part of the director and the writers, to a need to cut things for time so the movie (already over 2 hours long) doesn’t run insanely long.

I greatly appreciate that so much of the dialogue remains unchanged from the book, however. That made me feel like I really was watching a filmed version of the book I’d just finished reading.

I will say one thing, though – I hope that a major change is made in the fourth movie. The third book is being divided into two movies, as is the norm for the end of adaptation movie series these days. But I did NOT enjoy the ending of the series – I understood it, and I could see how it might happen…but it reached a point where it felt like there were other – better – ways that the story could’ve concluded.

I doubt people would enjoy a movie series that took you through all of this just to have a character everyone is attached to die in the last few minutes of action in the story. So I hope that changes when the movies come out. I will be watching the next movies in the series, though – I’m invested now. I enjoyed the books (aside from the ending) so much that I find myself eagerly awaiting Insurgent, the next installment in the series.

Who knows, maybe I’ll do another comparison post when that comes out!