It took three train rides and… I liked it. Didn’t love it, just plain liked it. And then I saw the movie.
It wasn’t that the film blew me away. As with any adaptation, I squirmed in my seat at details they glossed over and moaned over character depths not fully explored. (A few movie spoilers below, click away now—you have been warned.)
Maybe I’m finally growing up, but instead of getting angry at the film for these changes, I instead began appreciating the amount of detail Veronica Roth put into the novel, and here’s why:
(I’d highly recommend listening to the Divergent soundtrack while you read this, because it’s brilliant.)
The vibrancy of the factions do shine through in the film—Candor’s almost too-bright blue clothing, Dauntless’ deafening cheers during the Choosing Ceremony, the uniform landscape of Abnegation. But I never felt fully aware of the pressures to conform. Yes, characters often repeat, “faction before blood”—it’s only in the books, however, that I feel Tris’ true oppression while living in Abnegation. In the film, Tris (Shailene Woodley) sneaks glances into mirrors every chance she gets—even through a spoon at dinner. It shows her desire for something more than her current life, but is only one of the many struggles she faces in Abnegation. The book’s scenes of not being seen as an equal take place at the dinner table, only getting clothes every few months, and being expected to take the stairs while everyone else takes an elevator. The film captures the silence, the meekness, the dedication to charity—but in the book I feel the suffocation myself.
Guys, Film-Tris kinda got off easy. Aside from the occasional “Stiff” comment, she’s quickly accepted into Dauntless. Hell, the first night the transfer initiates are lifted onto everyone’s shoulders! Who’s letting the Stiff crowd surf? In the books, she’s fighting every second against Abnegation instincts and is put down on a daily basis for just that. She has friends, but struggles to let them into her mind, leaving her still feeling alienated. Her nails are bitten down until they’re bloody; she feels uneasy about her choice for Dauntless and her family; she constantly fights her natural instincts to avoid physical contact (more on this later)—and that’s where I get the impact of how important the decision she made it and how hard she’s struggling to fit in.
I see the lure of Dauntless in the film. Black is super-slimming; they’re always laughing and running around like wild animals. But in the books, they’re ruthless—more ruthless than the film truly explores. Mere minutes after they make their choices, Roth shows how easily initiates can go from Dauntless to factionless. One initiate doesn’t jump on the train, one Dauntless-born falls when attempting to leap to a rooftop—all before we’ve even reached the compound. Yes, jumping on a moving train is terrifying, and in the book you immediately see what happens if you fail.
Then there’s the training. While the books detail the blood gushing from people’s noses and pouring out of open wounds, the film is fairly tame and actually undermines the true danger of fighting in Dauntless. Even the simulations are turned down: Characters seem upset, and Molly is badly affected but Tris seems to get by all right. In the books, you truly understand how messed upDauntless is. You get the nightmares, the cold sweats, the broken spirits, the wonder if the simulations will ever stop haunting them—you get that choosing Dauntless is insane, but that you can’t leave, either.
This might be my favorite concept from the book. Being factionless is a fate worse than death. There’s no support, no community, no purpose. Most initiates were terrified of it: Al took his own life instead of facing it. This desperation is something I wish the film had amplified. On-screen, the factionless are shown as homeless, dirty, hungry, and lost. It looks horrible. But it isn’t until Tris has already chosen Dauntless that I began to get a sense of how it’s so much more than what you see. It’s not only physical hunger, it’s emotional longing for what you’ve lost. In the book, it’s a much larger focus and a legitimate fear to consider when choosing a faction.
From one scene to the next, Tris can’t trust Four with her Divergent status, but then she’s telling him about Erudite’s plan to take over the city. Considering that the film, sadly, can’t last three train rides, I understand the need to quickly lay groundwork when so many other things are happening. Yet, in the books you truly see the relationship between the two evolve and grow. You see Tris fight it; hide it from Christina and Will, who clearly suspect something is up; you see how he’s truly fascinated by her and why. Admittedly, there were moments in the book when I wanted to shake Tris and encourage her to focus on the bigger picture and quit mooning over Four. But let’s be real, I’m mooning over him too, and if I were 16, he’d be my main priority. #sorrynotsorry
Tris is alone for the majority of the Divergent book. She makes friends, but her status as Divergent, the news about the serum being dangerous, Erudite’s true nature—all of these things she hides until she trusts Four enough to share them. Even then, she says only what she must. She’s also the one who figures out that Eric injected her with an Erudite device for mind control. Because the movie can’t take place entirely in her mind, many of the facts she figures out on her own are handed to her easily. The other inductees joke about Divergents (when no one is supposed to know about them!) and Janine Matthews (Kate Winslet, my queen) is openly strutting about the Dauntless compound. In the books, Tris is brilliant. In the film, it’s a lot of lucky timing.
Upon first reading, I enjoyed but didn’t truly appreciate Divergent. I shut down my reading app and didn’t think about when I’d pick up the sequel. But after leaving the theater, and recalling all of the details that captured my attention in the book, I started Insurgent.