If you’re like me, then you went into Divergent expecting a fast-paced, mind-candy, dystopian-set teen romance movie. And, if you’re like me, you walked out of the experience thoroughly impressed with the portrayal of the main character, Tris, and how she relates to young girls and female agency.

Now, full disclosure, I have never read the Divergent book series by Veronica Roth, so I cannot speak to the similarities between the text and movie versions. Even though I can only speak on what the movie portrayed, what it showed was important, powerful, and something that should be talked about.

First off, some backstory. Beatrice “Tris” Prior is a teenage girl living in a dystopian society, post-some apocalyptic event. The society that reconstructed itself after “the war” has separated itself into five “factions”: Abnegation, Candor, Dauntless, Erudite, Amity, which all reflect different personality traits (Selflessness, Honesty, Bravery, Intelligence, and Peacefulness, respectively). The idea here is that you choose which faction you belong to based on your personality, and then you live and work there for the rest of your life.

Now, this is a problem for Abnegation-born Tris because she is a “Divergent,”  someone who doesn’t fit any mold and thus cannot be categorized into any one faction. Since they defy categorization, Divergents are a threat to the tenuous social order between the factions and could potentially disrupt the peace, causing them to be feared and hunted by the Powers that Be. Tris soon realizes that her Divergent status could get her killed, so she must choose a faction (an enormous, life altering event with very real, deadly consequences) based on her own intuition as opposed to following the sorting “test” that was supposed to categorize her.


Tris chooses the soldier faction Dauntless, which is defined by the bravery and ruthlessness of its members. Now, right away, the movie shows Tris having total control over her future (or as much control as one can have in a Big Brother type of society) with her ability to choose her own faction, especially one as difficult as Dauntless. Being in Dauntless proves a much more difficult task than she had anticipated, and she quickly finds herself in a dog-eat-dog society where initiates must improve or risk death or banishment. Despite her fear of not making it through initiation and her fear that her divergent status will be discovered, Tris works hard and eventually becomes a success story among the new initiates of Dauntless.

Her determination to succeed comes solely from within herself as she strives to not be left behind. When it seems like she is going to be kicked out of Dauntless after losing a grueling fight, she runs and joins the rest of the group, prompting the hard-hearted initiate trainer to ask her who gave her permission to join them. She responds, “I did,” and he accepts her answer. Tris is making her own choices in Dauntless and is not letting fear or totalitarian leadership control her.

An even more stunning example of female agency, though, is seen with regards to Tris and her own body. Consumed with jealousy of her success, a group of Tris’ fellow initiates ambush her and try to bodily throw her into a chasm to her death. Before she is rescued, she unmasks one of her attackers, and it turns out to be a close friend of hers. That same friend comes to her later with tears in his eyes, begging for her forgiveness. Tris looks him straight in the eye and threatens him with death if he ever touches her again. Can you remember the last time that you saw a movie where a young woman was put in a victimizing situation and came out of it making it very clear, on no uncertain terms, that it was not to happen again because what happened to her body was her choice? This is so surprising and important since Hollywood usually loves to glorify females in helpless situations (rape scenes, assaults, murders, you name it), and often no weight is given to the agency of the female in question. In Divergent, however, Tris made it very clear that she was willing to go to great lengths to protect herself and that she was the one who made decisions about her own body.

In a similar scenario, Tris is put through a fear simulator as a final test that will decide her future in Dauntless. In the simulator, you are presented with your worst fears, the final one being your deepest fear, and you are expected to conquer them. Tris’ fourth and deepest fear turns out to be her beau (fellow Dauntless member/Divergent/dreamboat “Four”) attempting to rape her.

According to several people I’ve talked to and other commentaries and reviews that I have read, this almost-rape scene does not occur in the book. Tris’ reluctance or unfamiliarity toward intimacy is definitely talked about in the series, but the only hint we are given of that in the movie is her warning to Four earlier in the movie, telling him that she didn’t want to go “too fast.”

Now, part of me was justifiably frustrated that the producers of the movie decided to add a gratuitous rape scene. The other half of me was impressed that they showed Tris fighting back and ultimately becoming the victor — the ultimate decision-maker, taking care of herself and her body.

Unsurprisingly, these opposing and conflicting views are reflective of the larger pool of Divergent viewers. Some reviewers felt that the rape scene was awful and unnecessary — further glamorizing sexual assault and perpetuating rape culture. Other reviewers were at the opposite end of the spectrum, saying that the added scene was Hollywood’s unorthodox and unprecedented way of celebrating female autonomy over their own bodies.

Ultimately, I felt that the movie really did celebrate Tris and her autonomy over her body and her life. She chose Dauntless even though it seemed like the last place where she belonged. She chose to push herself and survive. She chose to protect herself and, ultimately, to protect everyone that she loved. She was constantly making important, life-altering decisions on her own terms, something I haven’t seen a woman do on the silver screen in quite a long time. Tris: a teenage girl at the helm of a movie franchise and an autonomous being of agency. It was one of the most encouraging things that I hadn’t counted on seeing when I strolled, popcorn in hand, into my 7:45 showing.

What do you think, Germs? Did the movie do the book justice? Did you think that the added rape scene was damaging or constructive?  What did you think of the movie over all? Let’s discuss!

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