When adaptation becomes too daunting: Divergent in review

Director: Neil Burger
Screenplay: Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor, based on Divergent by Veronica Roth
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Ashley Judd, Jai Courtney, Ray Stevenson, Zoë Kravitz, Miles Teller, Tony Goldwyn, Maggie Q, and Kate Winslet

Giving life to the pages of today’s quintessential works of literature on screen is a challenge for filmmakers. Making screen adaptations good enough to please both the discriminating taste of followers and the expectations of the public is another. In this convoluted process, the latest book-to-screen film Divergent seemed to have lost its way out.

The first in Veronica Roth’s young adult trilogy, Divergent takes us to futuristic Chicago, wherein society is organized into factions according to each person’s personality and aptitude. Each faction is supposed to represent virtues that would prevent another great war: peace (Amity), intelligence (Erudite), honesty (Candor), selflessness (Abnegation), and bravery (Dauntless). Beatrice Prior, born an Abnegation, chose to join Dauntless (where she becomes Tris) as she and all the other kids turned sixteen. But before she chose her new faction, the results of Beatrice’s aptitude test, which was administered in order to supposedly help young citizens in their decision, were inconclusive; therefore, she is Divergent — and Divergents are seen as a threat to the faction system and the prevailing status quo.


(Yahoo! Movies)

(Yahoo! Movies)

This complicated yet gripping story is the very thing which posed the greatest challenge in turning the book into a film, and the filmmakers failed in doing so. Movie adaptations are not always exact replicas of the original material; however, book-to-screens are expected to be as faithful to the source as possible. Roth’s novel possesses a fully developed plot packed with vividly-described action, complemented by Tris’ thoughts and narration, which actually makes it a difficult novel to adapt into a film. The general flow of the story from the novel was not captured by the film; the filmmakers, unfortunately, had to resort to reshuffling events and altering (alarmingly too many) plot lines, including giving a sense of “closure” to the film.

Yet another dystopian future-themed franchise, Divergent seems to lie on the shadows of the popular and commercially successful The Hunger Games trilogy (Interestingly, the movies for both the Divergent and The Hunger Games trilogies are produced by Summit Entertainment). However, I would like to believe that the two franchises are not just about post-apocalyptic controlling societies — Katniss and Tris both have depths in their respective characters, but particularly for Divergent’s case, Tris has a more personal and vulnerable (the good kind) touch in her thoughts (which, however, was not intelligently incorporated in the film).

(Yahoo! Movies)
(Yahoo! Movies)

Luckily, Divergent was not a not-so-good movie with not-so-good actors on it. Shailene Woodley’s performance as Tris and Theo James’ portrayal of Four, the brawny instructor of Dauntless transfers saved the film from its narrative collapse. They are more than the personifications of the protagonists; they actually breathed life into them. Kate Winslet, however, stood out in playing the part of Jeanine, the cunning leader of the Erudite faction.

(Yahoo! Movies)

(Yahoo! Movies)

Production design and visual effects are two other departments worthy of praise. The depiction of post-apocalyptic Chicago went beyond the confines of the printed word, and the lively and hued portrayal of the factions does not only simply bring the factions to life; they were delivered to a higher level of representation. Meanwhile, the simulations, which form a large portion of the story, were intricately and stunningly depicted, and allow me to say this: the flawless transitions between fears definitely nailed it.

Despite these positive points, disappointment still exudes from the very fundamental element of the film — the story. Personally, I could not really explain what happened in the process, yet Divergent still deserves credit for bringing another young adult literary masterpiece to life. Maybe it is indeed the task of screen adaptation which came a little too daunting for Divergent, but just as another trilogy, saga, series, or whatever, we hope for a better (and a dauntless) sequel.

— V

MNL Film Club Score: 1.75