When news first broke, I was beyond thrilled to learn that the YA series "Divergent" would be filming its on-screen adaptation (starring some of my favorite actors, no less).
Before I even got a chance to see the film, however, I heard ramblings regarding the addition of a rape scene and why it was so important. Initially, I was confused; the book didn't have a rape scene. Did I miss something? Skip a few pages by accident?
After doing a little more research, I discovered that the filmmakers decided to take a sexual moment from the novel and take it to a whole new level; turning it into, essentially, an assault. My confusion quickly turned to anger. Here's why:
"Divergent" takes place in a futuristic, post-war world in which the new government has divided society into five factions: Abnegation, Dauntless, Candor, Erudite and Amity. Eventually, the time comes when young people are given a chance to either stay in the faction they were born in, or choose a new one.
They are given tests to determine which faction they have an aptitude for, which may or may not influence their choice. Beatrice (Tris) Prior has inconclusive test results (she is divergent, meaning she has an aptitude for more than one faction), but ultimately chooses Dauntless.
The Dauntless initiation process has several steps, one of which being a test involving the initiate's "fear landscape." This means that initiates will be put under a simulation that forces them to face their fears. Based on the way they react to the different situations, the leaders decide if they are fit for Dauntless.
In the novel, Tris finds herself in the bedroom of one of the Dauntless trainers, someone she has recently become romantically involved with, named Four. At first, she is confused, but she soon realizes that she is afraid of being with Four. And it is completely understandable why.
Abnegation, her original faction, is known for being modest, quiet and virtuous (Tris quickly earns the nickname "Stiff" during initiation because of where she comes from). Obviously, the girl is going to be a little apprehensive when approaching a sexual situation for the first time (she is only 16 years old).
This is where I need to make something very clear: Tris is afraid of being with Four because she is afraid of intimacy, not because she is afraid of him. At this point in the novel, she already knows and cares for him.
Amidst her confusion at the beginning of the simulation, Tris is struggling to figure out why Four is there, even saying to herself, "I'm not afraid of Tobias (Four's actual name)." There is no mention of her feeling in any way unsafe because of his actions in the simulation.
In the film version, however, Four is shown acting violently towards Tris. She tells him she wants to slow down and he pushes her forcefully onto the bed and hits her, even trying to guilt her into it by questioning if she's really brave enough to be Dauntless. Tris is clearly struggling against him and extremely uncomfortable in the situation.
The discussion that has been raised from the addition of this scene is problematic to me. It is making a statement that, of course, Tris is afraid because it is natural to fear sexual assault. While this occurrence most certainly has significant truth to it, it is simply not applicable in this situation, as was told by the author, Veronica Roth.
Four is not a man to be feared, and he is certainly not one that Tris is afraid of. It was merely an opportunity for the filmmakers to create a flashy social issue where there none previously existed.
Yes, I absolutely believe that this is a statement that needs to be made and a topic that needs to be addressed in our society; it just did not need to be done in this particular situation.
In fact, it goes beyond simply being unnecessary; the dynamic between these characters is now drastically altered. Now, as the audience, we are left wondering if Tris' fear of Four is constantly gnawing in the back of her mind. Is their relationship unhealthy? What does that glance he just gave her really mean?
Even if there is never an actual situation such as the one that occurred in the simulation, it still appeared in Tris' fear landscape, which means that somewhere inside of her, she truly is afraid of it.
Don't get me wrong: I am a supporter of movie adaptations of books. However, when the fundamental relationship between two main characters is tweaked in such a permanent, unsettling way in order to garner more attention, I'm not interested in pressing play.
Photo via Divergent