I got to see an early showing of Divergent due to being in a super-cool SF/F book club. This is a review of the movie Divergent intended for people who have already read the book. So beware:
Turn back now or forever hold your peace.
Before we get started, can I make comment about how much Hollywood is Hollywood. There was almost no cosmetic difference between Abnegation and the other factions. They still put product in their hair, used make-up, and had immaculately groomed eyebrows (no mirrors my ass!). The only difference was that the older folks didn’t use wrinkle-concealer. Oh Hollywood.
(and btw, Tris does not look anything like the above photo in the movie. Which is a good thing, cuz the role was that of “rebelious teen”, not “Freakish French Runway Model”. But why are they using this shitty un-representative photo?)
I previously mentioned several things that really annoyed me in the book, things that made me want to throw it across the room. The movie fixed these! Right off the bat we’re given some background about the world, and what happened to it (yay!). The gun- and computer-illiterate sections were gone! And best of all – Tris’s mother’s death is no longer COMPLETELY RETARDED. It was a legitimate death when they were taken by surprise out in the open. The actress (Shailene Woodley) really sells the grief, which was awesome. I actually liked the death scene! And finally, the majority of the climax actually made some semblance of sense. Rather than Four running the whole simulation by himself for some stupid-ass non-reason, the Erudite head-honchos were all there overseeing the whole process. So – mad props on fixing the crap parts.
Also, thank goodness they only used the name Tobias once, and then quickly went back to Four. :)
But all this came at a massive cost.
Peter was completely neutered. In the book you HATE him. Hate with the fire of a thousand suns. You see murder every time he comes on stage. In the movie he’s… just kinda a jerk? A completely forgettable nuisance. Seriously, anyone who didn’t read the book before – would they even remember Peter’s name after the movie? I really doubt it.
This hate also came with fear. In the climax of the book when they’re sneaking back into Dauntless HQ and Tris approaches the man guarding that first door, and once she’s close it’s revealed that it’s fucking PETER!? That moment sent a jolt of fear up my spine. Literally. My pulse jumped and my chest felt tight. Because holy fuck – it’s goddamn Peter. The vile asshole who can murder us dead but good. I felt Tris’s terror in that moment. But in the movie – meh. Nothing. We don’t know Peter, we don’t fear Peter. We don’t care.
Part of that is because there is no knife-in-the-eye scene in the movie.
You read that right. It’s gone.
Why? Why would you remove the most emotionally-impactful moment of the whole book? (Yes, more impactful than her parent’s death. By far.) That scene drives home our vulnerability in this new school. It shows the power of brutality and the abusive nature of Dauntless in general. It really cements Peter as a threat. Anyone can be permanently maimed. Their attacker will not suffer repercussions. And the victim will be ejected on the streets to live in squalor for the rest of his pitiful life for the audacity to be better at something than the bully. This was the core of what it is to be in Dauntless. This explained Tris’s decent into recklessness and viciousness. This is what drove Al’s decision to betray his friend and attempt to murder her at the bully’s behest. And it’s gone in the movie.
This affected Al’s motivation too. His betrayal scene kinda came out of nowhere without this prompting action. It wasn’t actually clear what the gang was going to do with Tris, and Al’s actions were so out of character and unexplained that if you hadn’t read the book you got the distinct impression that Al was being controlled by someone else. Perhaps an early test of the Eurdite mind-control. This is only strengthened by his “suicide” immediately after. Al was such a minor character that you don’t know any of his motivation, and it seems like it is strongly hinted that the “suicide” was actually a murder by the real actors to cover their tracks. Very sloppy film-making guys.
I think all of these problems can be traced back to a single failure by whoever was in charge of this movie:
They decided to make the Divergent society a kinder, gentler place.
Right off the bat – that Factionless guy that almost rapes Tris near the beginning of the book? That was cut. I didn’t remember this until later though.
The first thing you notice is that when the new initiates first jump from the train onto the Dauntless HQ roof, everyone makes it. There is no poor bastard moaning on the sidewalk five floors down with shattered legs as he bleeds to death. There were no people who stayed on the train and decided to accept a life of homelessness rather than take that risk. This movie is stripping away all the dark.
Once inside it’s hard not to notice that all the stairs and ramps have railings! Maybe this was required by work-safety regulations in California, but there had to be some way to get around this. The recklessness of Dauntless is key to their psyche, it helps make the world a dangerous and awful place. The railings were a subtle negation of that.
As someone who’s handled guns before, one of the things that most struck me as indicative of how degenerate their society had become was how cavalierly they treated their weapons. People would constantly menace each other with loaded guns. Even their fucking INSTRUCTOR put a loaded gun right up to the forehead of one of the children he is responsible for on the first day of their training. These people do not respect life at all. That was a major sign of their evil. That is a strong part of what pushes Tris to become brutal herself. It is what breaks down Al – a kind, gentle soul – to someone who feels he has to murder a friend simply to stay alive in this relentless grinding system, and then who kills himself in remorse afterwards. This is what a broken system does to good people. It destroys the ones that it doesn’t outright kill. In the movie, they don’t really handle guns at all. Certainly not with the abandon of the people in the book.
In every single respect, this movie makes their world kinder and gentler. It takes all the teeth out of the world, and the story suffers for it. Honestly, they should have simply written Al out, there’s no point in having the gentle soul in the movie anymore if he isn’t ground up and spat out.
Divergent the movie is not a dystopia. It almost looks like it’d be fun to live in that Chicago. Heck, they even made getting a tattoo painless and lame. How do you make tattoos lame? /shakes head
In the end, the movie fixed all the really shitty parts of the book, but it also tore away all the really good parts. So instead of a roller coaster of highs and lows that inspires both awesome cheers and disappointed groans, it’s just sorta mediocre throughout. It’s not bad, but it’s not memorable. And that’s a damn shame. I’d rather have something I can both love and hate, than something which I’ll forget about in a week. :/
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