5 ways Divergent is better as a film than a book

Divergent film image
Category: Reading
Tagged: film, adaptations

Another day, another dystopia. Divergent, the New York Times bestselling series by Veronica Roth, has amassed a huge following since its publication in 2011. Now, the first book in the series has received the big screen treatment. I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to get a little bit tired of the whole 'YA dystopia' thing. Has Divergent changed my appetite and brought something new to the genre? And how do the book and film compare?

For me, Divergent is one of those rare cases where I enjoyed the film far more than the original book. Here's why:

 

This happened, and this happened, and…

It didn’t really feel like the action took off until 400 pages in, but my grump-o-meter may have exploded by then

Exposition is a necessary evil of the genre, but I found it particularly tiresome for a considerable chunk of the book. It didn’t really feel like the action took off until 400 pages in, but my grump-o-meter may have exploded by then. Setting the scene is necessary but it fell rather flat, with no real contextual detail of the war that preceded everything. I wanted to get much more of a feel for the factions and the atmosphere of the ruined Chicago landscape.

By comparison, the world was far more vividly contextualised in the film. This is a benefit of the form, but the visual effects, costumes and fantastic score all served to give a much more immediate and satisfying introduction.

 

I spy with my little eye

First person narration can provide a highly personalised and engrossing perspective or it can feel like everything surrounding the protagonist has been sketched but not coloured in. Roth’s clumsy descriptions of movement, environment and expression left me feeling exasperated. I didn’t feel like we got to know any of the other characters at all and for a dystopian world, the scope seemed pretty limited.

The film tackled this much better, only using voiceover on a few occasions and still managing to make it feel like Tris’s story. Reflections provided a particularly interesting motif throughout the film. Tris begins the film as a member of Abnegation, complete with limited mirror gazing time. As she progresses through initiation and embraces her Divergent nature, Tris frequently looks at her own reflection and gains inner strength.

 

What are we fighting for?

Shailene Woodley and Theo James in Divergent
During the lengthy description of Tris’s initiation, I frequently found myself wondering why all of this was really happening. We’re told that the Dauntless faction are there to protect, but the threat of uprising and faction warfare isn’t fully explored until far later in the book. Build up is necessary of course, but it didn’t drive the story for me. The film still spent a considerable amount of time building the story but introducing Jeanine (Kate Winslet) much earlier was a crucial and satisfying change. Furthermore, the strong visual sequences (such as Tris facing her fears during the final part of initiation) helped keep the pace strong.

 

And they call it puppy love

Even as a former member of Abnegation, Tris’s complete lack of self-awareness when it comes to the opposite sex was a bit unbelievable. She admitted to not being very selfless, so surely she’s fancied someone before? I had to snigger at Four stomping out of rooms when she’s in danger and Tris’s tendency to stare at his muscles with no idea why he’s so distracting. Err.

Thankfully, the film bypassed any awkwardness. Their mutual attraction felt much more obvious from the moment she landed in Dauntless HQ. Four stopping the attack on Tris gave much greater weight to the progression of their relationship. The actors who played them, Shailene Woodley and Theo James, also had good chemistry, which does help.

 

Holy eyebrows, Batman!

Okay, so I’m being a little facetious, but I was very concerned by the book's constant references to everyone’s athletic eyebrows and sweaty palms. Surely there would be an injection for that in the far distant future? As for the film, everyone’s eyebrows seemed pretty stable- can you imagine that athleticism on a giant screen? Terrifying.

Above all, Verocia Roth's Divergent doesn’t live up to the potential or hype for me, but there’s definitely something to enjoy in its film counterpart, with Shailene Woodley’s charismatic performance being particularly notable. I’ll read the remaining books in the series (and some of my gripes may hopefully be addressed) but I’m secretly more excited for their big screen incarnations.

 

Have you read or seen Divergent? What's your take on Lynsey's view? Let us know in the comments below

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