Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Divergent - Dual Book & Movie Review

I watched the movie Divergent first before reading the novel (against true English major and book worm fashion; oh the horror!), as I did with the Hunger Games. I have to say, unlike the Hunger Games, a movie which really drew me in, the pull for Divergent was basically non-existant. This may be against popular opinion, but I left the movie feeling kind of "meh" about the whole thing. That being said, I still wanted to read the book(s) because of the "too much to put in with too little time" deal that often happens with book to movie transitions.

I think I went in expecting another Hunger Games- a powerful, emotional, dystopian story that hits you right in the feelings, but what I got was empty and hollow.

I'm not sure what was wrong with movie exactly, but I have a couple of theories. It could be, perhaps, that Shailene Woodley who plays Tris, despite holding her own in The Descendants, was unable to bring the same enthralling performance to this movie. I don't think she quite conveyed the strength and power that one needs to embody in order to pass as a member of Dauntless, though she did quite well as playing a meek member of Abnegation. But I can't entirely blame her, disconnect is prevalent in the movie. There is no spark between Triss and Four, despite Four being pretty darn cute. Even Kate Winslet's acting as Erudite leader Jeanine Matthews, is lacklustre and formulaic (and I can barely stand to say anything negative about my dear Kate!). I don't blame the actors themselves, it is likely what they had to work with, the script and the way the movie came together that made for a film that fell by the wayside. Diverent was disappointing in the way that it was nothing particularly special.
Four, played by actor Theo James.
Photo courtesy of People

But now... the book!
Divergent by Veronica Roth, as many of you probably know, is the futuristic dystopian story featuring a girl named Tris who lives in a city (formerly Chicago) devestated by war. So much so, that the new society (roughly a hundred years old) has been rebuilt on a foundation of factions... everyone is divided up into 5 different groups that adhere to certain principles and have specific roles in society. The Abnegation value selflessness and partake in community service and the running of the government. This is the group Tris originates from. The Erudite hold knowledge and intellegence to be above all else and provide the main conflict within the novel as their thirst for power becomes unquenchable. The Dauntless value bravery and strive to overcome their fear because of this, they are the ones to protect the city and guard the fence surrounding it. The Amnity delight in peace and are portrayed as happy and carefree, taking on jobs such as councellors as well as growing food. The Candor prize honesty and detest deception of any kind, even to the point of tacklessness and downright rudeness. They provide the city with lawmakers. One day a year, dependants aged 16 are able to choose what faction they would like to be in after taking a test which helps them to determine where they belong, though the choice is ultimately up to them. Divergent tells the story of Tris' choice, her struggle to fit in and find where she belongs, and the reality that she may never fit in the way she hopes.

As my boyfriend pointed out, the story is really a mix between the Hunger Games (dystopian story with a strong female lead as a symbol of revolution) and Harry Potter (the factions act as houses and you can choose your own, just like Harry!). Very clever, boyfriend.

What I liked about the book is that it definitely provides the background and detail at a level they just don't get to in the movie. Especailly with regard to Divergents: we don't get to see just why they are so dangerous or even what exactly they are in the movie, but the book provides us the necessary understanding. I never knew there were "levels" of Divergents or the different ways one could be Divergent until I read the book, but it seems an important avenue to explore, especially when one wonders why Triss was on Erudite's radar when Four was not.

However, I found the book a tad shallow and weakly written. Note: I am only commenting on the first book, I have yet to read the others. I felt Divergence could have used more depth and complexity. I would have liked it to be less black-and-white, good-and-bad. I would have liked to see more character development in those like the aforementioned Erudite leader Jeanine Matthews- no one is just plain evil without reason. I would have also liked to see more in-depth commentary on the meaning of the impending revolution, the power of the leaders, and the inequalities between the factions a la the Hunger Games (I'm sure we will see more of this in the latter two novels). 

It seems a bit silly and trivial to split people into factions based on one primary characteristic, even the Sorting Hat had a bit more depth than that. And when I see Divergence faction quizzes I have to giggle a little bit- why don't you just choose the one primary characteristic you like best and be done with it? 

What Roth implies when she notes that various people fit uncompromisingly into one faction or the other is that the characters in her novel are one-dimensional. Not only does this make the characters predictable (after all, we know how that all Abnegation will react to such-and-such situation with humility and selflessness and all Candor will reaction with honesty and so on), but that those characters are pretty much all the same. True, we do have some Divergents, like Tris and Four, that break the bounds of conformity, but it's a sad state of affairs for all the other characters. Basically, I wanted a message more compelling and complex than conformity is bad, divergence is good, mmmkay.

That being said I am aware that the novel is targetted at Young Adults, however, I have faith that the youth and all those that read these books (I am a fan myself of Young Adult fiction myself) have the capacity and understanding for more complex topics.

Additionally, I did enjoy the book on an experience level. It was compelling despite the fact that I knew the ending. I enjoyed the little details and moments I did not get to see in the movie. It's a quick read that you will find goes by very fast because you just want to find out what happens! I'm eager to read the rest of the novels to find out how the triology ends.

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