Shailene Woodley, Theo James
Directed by Neil Burger
I recently re-watched Divergent with new eyes: those that have read the book. The first time I watched the movie I had no idea what to expect, because I hadn’t read the series. Now I can tell you just what I liked about it, what was missing from the movie, and why some deleted scenes are worth watching in the DVD extras.
Viewers have to learn the rules of Divergent‘s dystopian world to understand the movie. Tris (Woodley), the main character of the Divergent series, explains the five factions of this world early on and as a viewer it’s easy to gloss over them if not paying attention. There’s Abnegation (Tris’ original faction), Candor, Erudite, Amity, and Dauntless. Each faction is unique because they believe in a core idea; like selflessness, truth, knowledge, kindness, and bravery. These five factions keep society moving in Chicago, where they don’t know if anything outside their city exists. This is similar to the world of the Hunger Games series, where each faction depends on another for stability. Amity farms, for example, while Abnegation supplies the food to the other factions so everyone has an equal share. Erudite are like scientists and create medicines to cure the sick, as well as design new technology to help other factions.
In Divergent viewers follow the life of Tris, who is a special case in this world of factions. At the age of 16 teenagers undergo a psychological test that suggests what faction they would do well in as an adult. Tris’ test results come out inconclusive, which doesn’t happen often, because the test eliminates four choices and spits out a faction. For Tris, she had three options for what would work for her which makes her a Divergent. This result worries her when her test supervisor tells her to never reveal her results to anyone because the government sees Divergents as a threat to their way of life. The next day is called the Choosing Ceremony because those teenagers must now choose to either stay with the faction they’ve grown up with or start a new life. Choosing a new faction means cutting off the relationship with the family you leave behind, and the motto is “faction before blood.”
With three different results, Tris chooses Dauntless. Their carefree lifestyle looks appealing from the selfless life she’s had to live. Whenever Dauntless appear on screen they’re usually running and screaming with joy. The initiation to stay in the Dauntless faction takes place over a couple of weeks, which is when the story takes place.
Training during initiation involves learning how to shoot, fight, and face your fears; yet all at the same time she has to hide her divergence. Some skills are easier for her to master but she can’t explain why when her secret could get her killed. There’s an urgency to do well in training because only the top 20 out of 30 initiates will make it into Dauntless while the other ten must live life as factionless (homeless), never to return to their family again.
There are elements of Divergent that work well when trying to bring a new world to audiences. It’s not too hard to pick up throughout the movie the rules of factions, even if you can’t remember the names of each one. The movie is entertaining and fast-paced so the interest level remains fairly high to the end. As Tris learns about her new faction, the viewers learn too, because no one really knows what goes on in each faction unless they are from there.
One of the aspects of the movie I wished there had been more of was seeing the simulations Tris experiences from her faction test to her initiation test as a Dauntless recruit. The simulations are more detailed in the book, of course, but the movie lacks the length of what goes on in the mind as this happens. During her fear tests in Dauntless, the movie splits up showing some of her fears in different scenes to keep viewers watching. Showing the same fears would get boring, but even if they did it all in one scene it would reveal more about Tris’ character. She can escape the simulation in one of the fastest times than the other initiates and they’re all supposed to be facing multiple fears (at least 10-15 the Dauntless leaders say is average). Showing us two or three fears and then Tris’ escape doesn’t feel as impressive as it did in the book. There’s also the fact that Tris only had six fears which was striking to her trainer as almost nobody else in Dauntless could match that.
I enjoyed the development of Tris’ character. She’s bold and courageous, and people underestimate her because she’s a young girl. One of my favorite scenes near the end of the movie is when Tris is facing a situation where she might have to shoot someone. As she holds a gun at the enemy he looks at her not threatened and says, “It’s not like you’re going to shoot me.” Her response is great when she says, “Why do people keep saying that?” and shoots him in the arm. It’s not like her character to kill because she’s not ruthless, but she isn’t afraid to use a gun if she has to. I think this scene demonstrates that just because she’s female doesn’t mean she can’t do the same things a male character would do.
[Entering the spoiler zone]
Last but not least there’s a deleted scene which should have been in the movie but (my speculation here) wasn’t because it might have bumped up the PG-13 rating. There’s already violence and action going on in Divergent but in this deleted scene we see Edward, a Dauntless initiate, crying in the middle of the night because a butter knife is sticking out of his eye. This horrific act reveals Peter’s personality (because he most likely did it) in that he would do anything to make it to the top. By adding it to the movie, we would see how competitive Peter is and why we should be afraid of him.
Jeanine plays a larger role in this movie than she does in the book. It’s most likely because she is the real enemy Tris will have to face in the sequel and giving her extra screen-time builds anticipation.
Overall, Divergent’s run-time of just over two hours fits in about everything viewers need to know that is relevant to the book. This should make the sequel easier to follow because the movie won’t have to explain the rules of the world again. Instead, we can jump into the story and go along for the ride.