Divergent – some thoughts on translating book to film

divergent quote

I love Divergent.  I’ve been a fan since the first book first came out, long before the movie craze that is currently causing young girls to want raven tattoos on their collar bones.

As a writer with a theatrical background, I can’t help but visualize the scenes I’m writing.  I have most of the characters in my book cast in my head with actors I know and love, and can see the story unfolding as it would on the big screen.  I’m not banking on my book ever being a movie – that’s not the goal.  Still, I think that writing with the visuals in my head is a healthy way to get across certain scenes.  I want my readers to share those images with me.

So now that the movie of Divergent is running rampant, I can’t help but wonder what Veronica Roth thinks about it.  I’ve seen the interviews, I follow her blog, I’ve read all of the Official Commentary.  But I still wonder what she REALLY thinks (beyond “Holy cow, that’s my story up there!” of course).

Well, for what it’s worth, here are my two cents.  Let me say, first and foremost, if you haven’t read the books READ THEM.  Seriously.  Forget the hype and the expectations and the movie for a moment, and just enjoy some good storytelling.  And THEN go see the movie.  And then, this post might make sense, ’cause I’m not going to go into the plot here, or describe the characters’ relationships and all that.  I’m assuming you already know that part.  But what I am really interested in are the differences between the book and the movie – what translated well, what didn’t, and what was just plain missing.  Here goes…

First the positive.  I loved the casting – that’s really where the book-to-movie success lives, and it was done well across the board.  Four was REALLY pretty ( wow – unexpectedly beautiful), and I thought that Tris read a little young at times, BUT I think that was a really good thing.  In the books, it’s so easy to forget how young she is.  (She’s sixteen.  Sixteen!)  In the movie, you cannot forget that.  I also loved the way they depicted the factions – the use of colour and symbols was very well done and made those distinctions as clear as they needed to be. And it was great to get to see the different locales, they were so well done in every instance – from the cookie cutter plainness of Abnegation, to the sterile harshness of Erudite, to the challenging dangers of Dauntless.  So good.  And they nailed three of the most important scenes – the knife-throwing scene, the Ferris Wheel scene, and the Fear-scapes were spot on.  Well done.

Not as successful?  The secondary and tertiary characters were mostly lost.  In that awful moment of Al joining in to help scare/kill Tris was almost not even there, because even knowing who I was looking for, it was hard to remember that that was Al under the mask.  And a huge mistake that I still can’t get past – no butterknife scene?  How in the world are they going to recover from that omission for the rest of the story?  That being gone tells me that Ms. Roth was not consulted as much as she should have been for the film.  Such a shame.

And a few things that I felt were missing… first, three words:  DAUNTLESS. CHOCOLATE. CAKE.  Seriously??  How hard would that have been to throw in there??  Okay, now that I’ve gotten that off my chest…  Some little things – I missed some of the cute, witty dialogue.  I missed the raging river at the bottom of the chasm.  I missed the visitation day, and getting to know that Will & Christina were an item before Tris killed him, and seeing Tris and Four alone in the control room when she turns the gun on herself.  But it took me a while to figure out what I missed most.  I missed being in Tris’s head.  All those thoughts and feelings… so many things run through her head but never come out of her mouth.  And while I really feel like Shailene Woodley did a remarkable job bringing her to life, I found that I still missed Tris.

And the chocolate cake.


2 thoughts on “Divergent – some thoughts on translating book to film

  1. Hmm…I have to admit I tried reading some pages of Divergent that were available on line and it didn’t grab me. But the bits and pieces you mentioned here have made me more curious about the book than I have ever been. B/c chocolate cake? Yes. Please. I’ll take a slice- any day! 😉 And turning a gun on yourself sounds like an edge of your seat moment. I do plan on seeing the movie, probably once it comes out on dvd.


    • I don’t know why I just found this comment! How weird. Anyway, that makes me sad, but I understand… everyone has different things that hook them in to stories. That one just hit all the right marks for me! 🙂


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