Film Review: Divergent
By some kind of miracle, I was able to watch Divergent on Friday – the opening day in the UK. Dream come true, right? My two friends and I raced to the cinema with 5 minutes to spare, extremely excited about what we were about to see. First of all, I have to congratulate Veronica Roth. I’m so happy for her, and couldn’t be more pleased with how it turned out. I know the film is completely independent to the book, but I feel that it was a good representation of the original story, and it was pulled off very well. I had low expectations because I was too let down by The Hunger Games film and didn’t want to be as disappointed; however, I was not at all disappointed this time – I was highly IMPRESSED.
I want to start off with the ‘bad’ things I noticed about the film. I don’t have much criticism, so let me just get it out of the way. It’s not even to do with picking out differences between the film and book, which surprises me.
Music: Most of the time, the music was suitable for the situation, and wasn’t over-dramatic or anything. However, I absolutely hated the music that had singing in it. I found it very intrusive, and it didn’t go at all. Plus, Ellie Goulding was used as the main soundtrack artist, and I can’t stand her voice. It just didn’t work for me, and ruined the film.
Sound: The tone of the film (especially at the beginning with Tris’ voiceovers) was quite calm – either to set the scene or to create tension. But it was hard to hear everything that the characters were saying. I know that acting for film is totally different than acting for theatre because you don’t need to project your voice (as the gaffers pick up the sound from a close proximity to the actors). But some lines were barely audible, and I don’t think it was the cinema’s fault! I wouldn’t say it needed to be a lot louder, they just needed to have slightly raised the volume when the actors were whispering.
The sound wasn’t the only thing that was toned-down, in my opinion. I imagined the Dauntless to be more hardcore, somehow. They were definitely portrayed as badass, kickass people, and the instructors were menacing, but I feel that they needed extra… oomph?
Casting of extras: Your choosing ceremony is supposed to be when you turn 16. When the group is being briefed before the ceremony, I saw that there were lots of fully-grown men, and not enough young-looking people. I guess it didn’t matter too much, because it wasn’t mentioned in the film about the age of the initiates, and they all looked more mature. I guess that’s me being a bit picky.
Injuries: Something I didn’t understand was how the characters recovered so quickly from injury. One minute, they’d be shot in the shoulder, the next they’d be running down the street, with not even a glance at the bullet wound or a wince of pain. And Jeanine! I can’t believe that Tris threw a knife right through her hand, and when it was taken out, she was barely traumatised. I partly blame the actors, who should have done ‘method acting’ to be able to empathise with their characters more (I can’t criticise them too much because they were brilliant, really). I also partly blame whoever was supposed to check the film in post-production for continuity errors.
Veronica Roth: She had a cameo during the zip line scene, but it was too brief! It was too dark to see her face properly – I just recognised her physique and haircut. It’s a shame that she couldn’t have stayed on screen for longer…
Now onto the good stuff, because there’s a lot of it! A little bonus which has nothing to do with the film: I got a free book, which is an exclusive sample of the first 6 chapters of the original novel. I already own Veronica Roth’s masterpiece, but it’s such a nice memento of the special occasion.
Introduction: The introduction was so well thought out and it carefully pulls you into the Divergent world. I believe that if you haven’t read the book, the introduction explains everything so that you don’t need to have done. I loved the slow panning of aerial views of the dystopian Chicago city, complete with Tris’s explanatory voiceovers. The faction system is also described in sufficient detail, providing snapshots of their individual lifestyles.
Characters: They were extremely well portrayed on screen. You could see the personal development in each one. Caleb transforms from a smug, secretive Abnegation brother into a smart, brainwashed Erudite academic (a strong believer in the ‘faction before blood’ motto); Al transforms from a sweet, conscientious lad into a jealous, guilty wreck (it’s a sad, sad situation…); Four transforms from a tough, unforgiving instructor into a sympathetic, sensitive and protective (and totally gorgeous) boyfriend – at first he had no romantic intentions but then you can start to see him smiling to himself, which is so cute; Tris transforms from a shy, indecisive girl into a brave, selfless, independent and headstrong Dauntless initiate. Tris’ development is the most obvious and important, which is what makes her such a fantastic role model. Not only does she realise that she needs to train to survive, but she thrives in the Dauntless compound, and improves more than any other initiate (referring to the scoreboard). There are so many lessons we can learn from her determination, perseverance and feistiness. I also found Jeanine’s character worked well on screen. Her Erudite-coloured eyes and calm approach made her seem more threatening and cold than perhaps being outright aggressive. She has so much power and control, and her Erudite language woven subtly into her dialogue has a scary effect.
Actors: They were so much better than I had expected. Trust me when I say I’ve watched a fair amount of interviews with the cast, crew and author herself! I wasn’t keen on Theo James playing Four, just because he didn’t look like I imagined Four to look in my mind. But in the film, he fitted Four’s persona so well that I not just accept him as the face of Four. Shailene Woodley also wasn’t my first choice. Now I don’t know who I would have preferred in her place! They were both excellent and they deserve a lot of praise for their portrayal of such inspiring characters. Kudos to the casting directors for surprising us all, in a good way. It was great to see some other familiar faces – Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort (my baby) and Kate Winslet, for example.
Relationships: The relationships within the Prior family seem so tense, especially at the beginning of the film. This really added to setting the scene and laying out the family situation for the viewers. In the book, Christina and Will get it on, but here the main focus (understandably) was on ‘Fourtris’. I did notice how Christina and Will become closer all the time, and their growing relationship is definitely implied through the way they interact. I thought this was such a clever way of addressing the situation without dwelling on it and stealing the power couple’s thunder! Four and Tris were adorable. I ship them so much, and the relationship works so nicely in the film, which made me happy. The awesome thing was the development of their relationship. Usually in films, you can immediately tell who’s going to end up with who, and they get together within the first third of the film. But in this case, the crescendo comes at just the right point; there is enough time for them to build up a level of trust, and for Tris to gradually steal Four’s heart through her bravery and strength. The romance doesn’t dominate the film – it’s just kept very real and Dauntless-like.
Pace: The film has great pace; nothing is too rushed or too boring. It’s gripping throughout, and you never know what’s coming next.
World building: As I mentioned, the introduction helps build up an image of the rusty dystopian world in which the factions exist. The landscapes are beautifully shown, and nothing looks too CGI at all. The fence has an air of mystery about it, and the viewer is left to wonder what will happen in the next installment of the trilogy, with reference to it. It’s absolutely believable. The factions are all true to their characteristics described in the novel, and their buildings and costumes help to reflect each one’s nature. The style and colours of the costumes make Veronica Roth’s world come to life on the screen, and I appreciate all the details. I liked the style of the Abnegation houses: simple, grey and low key. Inside the Priors’ home, it’s kind of dark, and nothing has labels. It’s a combination of wood and olive/ grey tones along with dim lighting. I’ve seen a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff, so I already knew what a lot of the sets would look like. The ones that I hadn’t seen came as pleasant surprises, and I was so fascinated by the way in which all these fictional places had been created. I particularly liked the jazzy tattoo parlour (and how the tattoos were printed on rather than injected with a needle).
Themes and messages: All of the key ideas and themes from the book were translated beautifully onto the screen. I could spend ages analysing everything, but there’s not really any point because if you’ve read the book then you’ll know that there are important things we can learn from the story and characters. I feel that young people can come away from the film having gained something (inspiration or hope) that they didn’t have before. I think that Divergence itself is explained well in the film, and it’s a significant idea that holds the story together. It doesn’t dominate the plot but the threat of being Divergent crops up at random times, reminding you of the danger Tris is in. It’s mentioned enough times for you to take it seriously, but the film is really more than just Divergence: it’s about friendship, loyalty, uprising, society and all that the factions stand for, plus more.
I recommend this film to those obsessed with the Divergent book(s) because it does stay true to the original work. However, maybe it’s not the best idea to read/re-read it just before seeing it, because you’d probably pick up on a lot that has been omitted. But anyway, it’s a really great film and I certainly enjoyed it.