(Editor’s note: This article was written by Megan Merrick.)
For those of you who haven’t read the book, I’ll give you a brief rundown of Veronica Roth’s Divergent. The story takes place in future post-war Chicago that is surrounded by a large fence. The city itself is hardly recognizable as Chicago with its dilapidated buildings and the large sprawling marshland that used to be Lake Michigan. In this closed-off world, the people are organized into five factions: Candor, who value honesty above all things and run the city’s judicial system; Amity are free-spirit farmers who provide food for the city and dress in bright colors (hard-working hippies); Erudite devote their lives to research and science and are always seen wearing dark shades of blue; Abnegation are selfless and giving and run the city’s government because of their devotion to selflessness; Dauntless are the fearless soldiers who protect the city and often sport facial piercings, tattoos, and wild hair styles. The factions for each person are determined at age sixteen, at which point the teenagers take a test that reveals their true values. After their test, each person must choose his or her faction publicly at a ceremony. ”Faction before blood” is the motto that they live by. Once a faction is chosen, it is chosen for life.
The protagonist of the story is Beatrice Prior, the daughter of two prominent Abnegation leaders. She confesses that unlike her brother and her parents, who live out the selfless abnegation lifestyle to near perfection, she has always had to fight her selfish nature. She watches the Dauntless jumping off trains and living without restriction and secretly longs for a life of excitement. When Beatrice takes her faction test, her results reveal that she is divergent, having aptitude for more than one faction. She is quickly informed by her test administrator, Tori, that being divergent is dangerous, and that she must never reveal her test results for her own safety. Beatrice is left with more questions than answers. On Choosing Day, in a decision that stuns many people in abnegation, Beatrice follows her instincts and publicly joins the dauntless faction.
For the rest of the book, Beatrice, now known as “Tris”, struggles earn a place in her new faction, while also trying to convince herself that she is, in fact, dauntless. When she hears of suspicious activity among the erudite leaders, it isn’t long before the erudite wage war on the abnegation faction using an army of dauntless soldiers who act under a powerful mind-control serum. In her fight to save her family and her faction, she discovers that her status as divergent puts her in more danger than she thought, as Jeanine Matthews, leader of the erudite, is out to find and destroy all divergent living in the city.
Now for my thoughts on the movie…
I went into it with fairly low expectations. After finishing the trilogy and not feeling that the third book sufficiently wrapped up the story, I had a feeling that the movie would come off as a rushed project with many holes in the story-line. But my curiosity was greater than my trepidation, so I forked over the cash and spent a Friday night with countless giggly teenage girls in a movie theater to see the much-anticipated film.
My first thought was that the visuals were stunning. I have to admit that one of the main reasons I wanted to see the film adaptation was because many of the settings described in the book were a little hard for me to imagine. I was curious to see how this dystopian Chicago surrounded by a marsh looked, and if the reckless antics of the dauntless were really as heart pounding as they were in my imagination (they were). I was very impressed with the portrayal of the city, with its half destroyed buildings and the abandoned ship in the middle of the open marsh. And seeing the dauntless ride a zip-line head-first through the city was as thrilling to watch as the book describes.
The cast itself was another draw for me. I was unsure about the choice of Shailene Woodley as Tris, but I was sure that Theo James and Kate Winslet would be perfection in their roles. As it turns out, I highly underestimated Shailene as an actress. I was impressed with her performance from start to finish, but I have to say that the moment when her mother (Ashley Judd) was fatally shot by a dauntless soldier was one of most heart-wrenching scenes I have witnessed. At that point, I knew that Woodley had the chops to portray the conflicted and often heartbroken Tris for the rest of her journey.
I have heard people complain about plot holes in the movie, but I would remind those who have read the books that the absence of your favorite scene does not equate to a hole in the plot. However, there was one glaring hole with which I couldn’t contend. The character Edward was mentioned briefly in the film (like, someone said his name), but they completely left out the part of the story when Peter and the other dauntless initiate bullies attack him in his sleep and stab him in the eye with a butter knife, resulting in Edward’s departure from the faction, and Peter moving to the top of the initiate rankings. While this might seem like a legitimate scene to leave out, I found it distracting because I know that he makes an appearance later in the story. So for the second half of the movie, nearly all I could think about was “how are they going to have _________ without Edward? Are they going to have him mysteriously show up with one eye?” To be fair, the fact that his character shows up again later in the story isn’t exactly a major event in the plot, but it’s of enough importance that those who read the books will be irritated by his absence.
All in all, I thought it was a very solid film adaptation. As a reader of the books, I didn’t feel disappointed, as I often am with beloved books-turned-popular-movies. The visuals served to enhance my interpretation of the books rather than hurt it, and the cast was well suited to each of their roles. For those who haven’t read Divergent, the movie shouldn’t be hard to follow. They did a good job providing the background necessary to understand the story without spending too much time on it. It may even be in your best interest to see the movie before reading the book because the visuals will likely enhance your reading experience. The one “hole” that I saw was one that could be worked around in the next films, but I did find it a bit distracting. If you have read the book, go see the movie! Unless you’re extremely nit-picky and don’t understand the concept of editing for the sake of time, you won’t be disappointed. If you haven’t read the book, I recommend seeing the movie first, as you will be better able to visualize the setting while enjoying the details of the book that you missed from the film.