Movie Review: Divergent

Divergent is a movie that I had been eagerly anticipating for quite some time – even if it has been quite a while since I read the book. On the way to the theater, my friends and I were discussing the scenes that we were excited to see and, in my case, the actors that we were excited to swoon over. As we were leaving the show, discussion turned to what we liked/disliked and what we wished they had included. After a day of organizing my thoughts on the matter, I’ve found that I didn’t love the movie, but I also didn’t dislike it… which makes this review somewhat difficult to write.

For those of you who haven’t seen the movie yet, this review will likely be spoiler-filled, so please use your discretion if you decide to keep reading beyond this point!

Divergent takes place in a dystopian society – specifically in the remnants of war-torn Chicago. Society is organized into five factions: Abnegation, which extols the virtues of selflessness; Candor, which values honesty; Amity, which represents peace and kindness; Erudite, which values knowledge and learning; and Dauntless, which values bravery and courage. At the age of 16, inhabitants undergo an aptitude test that determines which faction they are best suited for and, shortly afterwards,are able to choose the faction that they would like to spend the rest of their lives in. However, for individuals like our protagonist, Tris Prior, representing the values of only one faction may be more difficult than expected…

One aspect where Divergent excelled was the visual effects. From the fields that Amity care for to the large, rusted Ferris wheel, everything was incredibly well-done. Some scenes perfectly matched what I had pictured while reading (like the Ferris wheel) while others were interpreted in completely different ways (like the pit in the Dauntless headquarters… or the Dauntless areas in general). Despite this, they all meshed together nicely to create the perfect dystopian Chicago setting.

Another factor that I absolutely adored was the soundtrack. While aesthetics are often the first thing that one thinks of in regards to a film, a well-chosen soundtrack is instrumental in evoking and amplifying the emotions that the actors are portraying. During several pivotal scenes, Ellie Goulding’s beautiful voice was the only sound, and the emotional reaction that it garnered differed dramatically: Dead in the Water set the mood for Tris and Four’s first kiss, while Beating Heart‘s haunting tones closed the film alongside Tris’ voice over. Her music was an external representation of Tris’ emotions and thoughts, and I thought they were perfectly chosen.

As for the characters, they were very hit and miss with me. I have never really been a fan of Shailene Woodley’s acting, especially after seeing The Secret Life of the American Teenager, and unfortunately Divergent did not change my opinion on that matter. Thankfully, I wasn’t the black sheep in my friends group in regards to this: my roommate’s only response to Shailene as Tris was “well… she has really pretty eyes.” A lot of critics have praised her acting as being “subtle,” which it must have been since she came across as very wooden – even during her most emotional scenes. As a result, a lot of scenes (such as Will’s death) lacked the emotional impact that they had in the book, and served to distance me from her has a character. Tris’ growth and development was one of my favourite portions of Divergent, as I really enjoyed reading about her journey of self-discovery and empowerment. This was definitely evident in the film, however I can’t help but feel that she grew too strong: for a girl who is advised that she should utilize her speed to her advantage in a fight since she lacks upper body strength, she certainly should not have been able to throw around guys who are easily twice her size – even if it does add dramatic effect during fight scenes.

Theo James was an excellent Four. At first, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the fact that he look so old compared to Tris, however his delivery definitely made up for that fact. His chemistry with Shailene was evident in their romantic scenes – which, thankfully, weren’t as numerous as in the book.

In the books, the other initiates were  important and I grew to care about or sympathize with them all – with the exception of Peter, of course. That attachment made it so much easier for me to feel for the characters: as they succeeded, I was so proud of them; as tragic events befell them, I was sad for them. In the movie adaptation of Divergent, however, the secondary characters – or everyone who wasn’t Tris – received very little screen time or development. If I hadn’t read the books, I definitely wouldn’t have realized that Christina and Will were in a relationship, that Peter even had a name, or that the Dauntless born initiates like Uriah were actually quite a lot of fun. This lack of emotional attachment made it hard to view these characters as people; instead, they were only important in relation to Tris, and were either her acquaintances or her competition. As a result, events that I vividly remembered from the book because of the emotional impact that they had – namely Al’s suicide and Will’s death – didn’t faze me at all.

As with every book-to-movie adaptation, certain liberties were taken with the plot, and scenes were either added or left out. The bibliophile in me was mostly satisfied with how accurate the movie was, however there were a few key scenes that I took issue with.

My biggest disappointment may have been the exclusion of Edward – and, by extension, the fact that the scene where he gets stabbed in the eye with a butter knife was not included. Other scenes definitely did show how awful Peter was, and just how far initiates were willing to go to make sure that they had a place in Dauntless, however I’m still bitter that that scene was cut.

Another scene that I was uncomfortable with was during Tris’ fear landscape. In the movie, it appeared as though she had a fear of being raped by Four, when the book made it clear that her fear was intimacy. There are many ways to be intimate, and sex isn’t necessarily the only way of doing so. It has prompted excellent discussion on the importance of consent, however, so I suppose I can forgive that oversight.

On a completely shallow note, Jai Courtney made an excellent Eric. Gone was the greasy black hair and scary amount of piercings that book-Eric possessed, and in its place was the ridiculously attractive individual on the left. And that, my friends, is a change that I was definitely okay with. Even if my friend kept calling him “punk rock Macklemore” throughout the entire movie.

There were several other small changes that I really enjoyed, including the substitution of paintball guns during Capture the Flag to the use of weapons that simulated the pain of a real gunshot wound (but don’t worry, that pain only lasted for a few minutes). It was just so Dauntless that it was perfect.

Overall, I enjoyed Divergent for the most part. The action and scenery were spot on, but the characterization was lacking and that somewhat dampened my experience. Despite that, I’ll likely be in line for Insurgent when it comes out – especially if my favourite bad guy makes an appearance.


Top Ten Best/Worst Movie Adaptations

It’s Tuesday, which means that it’s time for Top Ten Tuesday, a book meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week’s theme of top ten best/worst movie adaptation is a bit difficult for me, as I will either avoid watching the movie if I loved the book or will avoid reading the book if I loved the movie out of fear that it will ruin the experience for me. That being said, there are (of course) several exceptions to this rule, as seen below.

As usual, the order of the list reflects only the order in which I thought of each item, not their ranking. Movie trailers have been attached so that you can take a look, if you’re so inclined.

The Best

1. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

As one of my absolute favourite books, I was very worried that the movie would not do it justice. However, as Stephen Chbosky himself wrote the screenplay, and Emma Watson (who I absolutely adore) was starring in it, I decided that it was worth a try – and I am so glad that I did. It was one of the most true adaptations that I have seen: so much of the actual dialogue was lifted straight from the text, and it managed to make me cry just as much as the book did.

2. Harry Potter series

While not all of the movies stayed true to the books (looking at you, Order of the Phoenix), I was really impressed overall. My classmates, some of my teachers and I had a tradition of dressing up as the characters and attending the opening night showing of each of the films, so they hold a very special place in my heart.

3. The Hunger Games

Having read The Hunger Games when it was first released, I was so excited to see that there was going to be a movie adaptation of it. The movie was so true to the books, and I really enjoyed how scenes outside of the arena (like those involving Seneca and the other Gamemakers) were added.

4. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

I loved this movie. It captured the feel of the book, and was simultaneously sweet and powerful. And, just as importantly, Aslan and Mr. Tumnus were perfect. I’m looking forward to watching the rest of the series (and still holding out hope that The Magician’s Nephew will eventually be adapted).

5. Fight Club

Seeing as the first rule of Fight Club is that you don’t talk about Fight Club, I’m not going to say too much about this one. I will, however, say that I equally liked both the book and the film, as the book gave Marla more personality and the film provided a more satisfying ending.

6. The Notebook

I have to admit that I haven’t actually read the entire book; I started it, but just couldn’t bring myself to continue reading. I did like the movie though – and considering I don’t usually like “chick flicks” or romance-centric movies, that’s saying a lot.

7. The Help

This movie was perfectly cast, and I enjoyed it just as much as the book.

8. The Lord of the Rings series

These books were made to be adapted into movies. They took me forever to read because of the pages upon pages of detailed description that I confess I often skimmed through. It was incredible to see all of that imagery come to life in a way that was very true to the text.

9. Hugo

The Invention of Hugo Cabaret was a really unique, beautifully illustrated story. The film may be long and not as action-filled as I usually like, but it certainly succeeded in recreating the illustrations in a stunning way.

10. Coraline

This movie managed to perfectly capture Neil Gaiman’s creepy-yet-imaginative story. I loved the animation style, which definitely suited it a lot more than actual acting would have.

+ Sherlock

I know that this isn’t a movie, but this BBC series is the best Sherlock Holmes adaptation I’ve seen. Despite being a modernization, it is so true to the actual text, and it’s incredibly written.

Honourable Mentions (or items that I wanted to include before realizing that my list was already at ten): Stardust, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Pride and Prejudice (including The Lizzie Bennet Diaries), Holes, Game of Thrones, Pretty Little Liars, The Princess Bride

The Worst

1. Twilight
I didn’t mind reading the first book; it wasn’t the greatest book that I had read, but it certainly wasn’t the worst. I really did not like the movie, though. The acting was flat and expressionless, and turned me off the rest of the series.

2. Inkheart
I loved the book so much, but unfortunately the movie did not live up to my expectations. It wasn’t just that it was unfaithful – it was just… bad.

3. Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief
This is one of my favourite middle grade series, so I was really disappointed when I finally watched the movie. If this was a standalone movie, I might have enjoyed it more… but I felt as though the more important aspects to Percy’s journey were left out or reinvented. Hopefully the next one will be better.

4. The Cat in the Hat
This movie was (at best) a train wreck. I don’t know how I managed to sit through the entire thing.

5. The Golden Compass
After taking away the religious and philosophical themes in favour of more action sequences, I’m so glad that it was just a standalone – that way, there’s still a chance that it will be adapted properly at some point in the future.

6. Eragon
The book was beautifully written and fun to read. The movie just consisted of poor acting and a choppy plot, and is the main reason that I haven’t read the rest of the series.

7. Beautiful Creatures
There were just so many unnecessary changes that made this quite disappointing to watch. I really enjoyed reading all of the books, but I doubt that I’ll bring myself to watch any of the other movies.

8. A Series of Unfortunate Events
Surprisingly, I actually did kind of like this movie, even though it was poorly handled, rushed, and failed to include a lot of the details I enjoyed in the books. That being said, I hope that one day someone will adapt the entire series in such a way that includes all of the important parts – especially if that means that each of the books is made into its own movie.

9. The Lovely Bones
I really did like the book, but the movie wasn’t able to portray the mix of horror and sentimentality that the book so delicately balanced.

10. Angels & Demons
It’s my favourite of the Robert Langdon books, but the movie was just waaay too different. I understand that a few things needed to be changed in order for it to be viewed as second in the series, but a lot of the changes were unnecessary, confusing, and made me angry.

What are your favourite/least favourite adaptations?