This weekend David and I went and saw Divergent in theaters. The quick take on the movie is that it was an enjoyable ride. It was not the best movie that I have been through, but it kept me entertained for two and a half hours. Now I admit that I am a bit biased because I read all three books in a week. I really enjoyed the book series and in some ways I will admit it tainted my view of the movie because I knew what was going to happen beyond the first movie. Knowing where it all goes definitely made it a different experience for me. At the same time I thought the movie did a good job of capturing the story and general feeling of the first book.
There were certain scenes that they changed to up the action, but overall I thought they kept pretty faithful to the book. The two places that I found the most changes were in the mental spaces and some of the violence. (Spoilers for Divergent after the jump.)
This illustrates one of the biggest issues with translating a book into a movie. Many times in a book you are hearing so much about a characters inner thoughts and emotional motivations. In Divergent there are multiple times where we are sent in to a mental simulation. Most of these scenes are about what is happening in a characters head, but a mental state can be hard to show visually. So much of what we understand from the book comes to us in the mental state of Tris and the other characters. In the book the fear landscape is about facing your fear, either by facing it head on or calming yourself down despite it. The idea is that if you understand your fear and can still act rationale in the face of it then when you are in a critical situation you know how to respond.
In the movie they changed this part up to make it much more action oriented. The various mental simulations in the movie they tried to do the scenes with the most action or add action to it. Instead of just facing your fear, as in the book, they had to conquer their fear. This meant being able to act in face of your fear. If you have a fear of heights then you are put on a skinny walkway a long way up and have to get to safety. Fear of small spaces you have the room start closing in on you and you have to figure out how to stop it. Everything had to be very action oriented, which is why the mental fear of intimacy does not play as well on screen. In the book it was about calming herself down in the face of her fear of intimacy, but that does not visually look as good. So instead they make it a fear of the guy pushing for more and her saying no then fighting back. All of the situations they changed tried to up the action because it is difficult to understand a fear that doesn’t have a specific physical manifestation or is one that we personally do not understand.
What is funny about them making the mental spaces more action packed is that then they down played some of the real life violence that occurred in the book. In the book they describe people’s faces being broken, eyes swollen shut, and worse. The way they described some of the violence in the book I imagined much worse then what was shown on screen. I cannot say why this occurred, maybe it was to keep the movie in the PG-13 rating, but I felt like they downplayed the after effects of the fights. In the movie they just showing them having a few bruises, no split lip, broken nose, swollen face, it is all still very camera ready. They do not let the kids get ugly, some of the thought being they are supposed to be teenagers, but it downgraded some of the violent nature of the Dauntless faction.
Now on top of downgrading some violent scenes, they totally took out at least one scene of violence and that is that after the first round of cuts the number one guy wakes up with a knife in his eye. The scene in the book was brutal and I think it was removed partly due to time, but I wonder if they did not want to show that level of violence. In the book it is another way to show the level of violence that is accepted for the initiates in Dauntless. I do not think that it took away from the story being told, but decreased the level of the threat being faced by Tris by choosing this faction.
Books versus Movie
This is obviously only a couple areas that were changed, but they were some of the big moments for me. The movie was a fun ride, but the books just took me so much deeper. I think watching the me I was transported in a way to the emotional connection I had with the book and it is difficult to separate those feelings. I thought they did a great job of bringing the story to the big screen, but the book is still better. The biggest change they made was the very end of the movie. They made it much more high action and kept Jeanine in the middle of what was happening, when in the book it was really just an emotional game between Tris and Four. The difference between the movie and book speaks to some of the basics with how you show something that is more about a mental or emotional state versus specific actions.