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Weaker or Stronger for It? Changes in the Divergent movie

October 29, 2014

[Spoilers for both book and movie.]

So I watched the Divergent movie only a few days after I finished the book, and I was surprised by many of the little changes.  I don’t know why.  There are always little changes, moments that would last no longer than thirty seconds, that would create a deeper experience, and yet they’re tossed away.  As someone who watched right after she read, I can’t say for sure that these were necessary losses or adds, but I felt a lack of them.

The largest change to Divergent, in my opinion, is the playing down of the fundamentalist nature of the factions, especially Abnegation.  As a result, the viewer has much less disbelief to suspend.  The viewer feels that Tris is choosing a job with a specific lifestyle rather than a life overhaul.  Even though the factions are more divided in the movie–shown by Tris’s mother having to sneak to see her–it feels more like boot camp than sci fi at times.  However, by playing down Abnegation’s more Christian/Amish feel, the changes in Tris’s life seem less radical.  So you have that as well.

The second largest change is the strengthening of the antagonist, Jeanine Matthews.  Jeanine is everywhere in the movie, and having a clear face for that conflict is a good thing for a visual medium, although it reduces the sense of faction conflict as a result.  With a clearer villain, it feels like Jeanine vs Abnegation with a trickle-down to Erudite, rather than Erudite vs Abnegation with Jeanine as its leader.

The constant use of mirrors in the movie is fantastic, but the loss of the second part of Tris’s aptitude test makes the scenario feel even more arbitrary.  In the book, we get a careful explanation of how the test separates faction aspects, but that’s lost to the movie because half the test is missing.  Tris fighting through the simulations like a Dauntless is fantastic.  It shows her adaptability, something we don’t really get until the second book.

The movie also ditches the sexual assault scene and softens it into just a kidnapping/attempted murder scene.  Peter is watered-down in the movie, but I actually had no problem with that.  Yes, we lose the eye-stabbing and with it a lot of the tension, but given Peter’s role later in this movie and in the next, it works just as well to make him a stumbling block and leave the real villain clear.

This is definitely a movie that finds weak points in the original text and strengthens them, especially from a visual perspective.  However, it loses a bit of the depth of Roth’s world and a lot of depth from Tris.  Shailene Woodley makes up for most of that loss, but I still felt that slight distance between myself and the lead I don’t want.  With a prickly character like Katniss Everdeen, it doesn’t matter, but with Tris, being in her head is the only thing that makes sense.

Finally, a more personal note: ANSEL ELGORT CAN *NOT* ACT SMARMY??  SO HORRIBLY SMARMY GUS WAS A *CHOICE*??  My heart is broken.

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