“Divergent” Rape Scene: Why It Matters in the World of Adapted Screenplays

In response to this article posted on Medium.com…

“Divergent” Rape Scene: Here’s Why It Matters” argues that “Divergent” marks a huge milestone in Hollywood Blockbusters; never have we seen a woman fight off her rapist and hold incredibly steadfast to the word, “no”, making it clear that a man does not have her consent. It is very important that those in Hollywood help re-write the script on rape-culture (and violence against women in general; the most recent films that come to mind are “Enough” and “Back and Blue“.) Rape is not funny. Rape is not something to be taken lightly, and many women who have been raped are afraid to speak out. With that said, I have a huge issue with the screenwriters of Divergent for so flippantly crafting a scene that compromised Tris’ safety without putting anymore thought into it than, “let’s make a social statement to satisfy feminists”. I do not feel that adding a rape scene in this film made any sort of forward progression toward lessening the portrayal of women as objects. The writing was not believable.

SPOILERS WARNING

He lunges, pinning her to the mattress. Her sentences turn to screams, to shouted no, no, no’s, and her fists begin to fly. She is aggressive. She is fierce. She forces him off with one final, decisive kick, and lies back, gasping.

Then the dream ends, and she awakes to a crowd of exam proctors applauding her. Cheering her on. Patting her on the back. Telling her how brave and smart and strong she is. Telling her that she did exactly the right thing. That she’s a model for the other trainees.

Almost accurate — After Tris tells Four “no” the first time, he pins her to the bed and growls, “What’s the matter, aren’t you Dauntless?” Tris doesn’t scream a lot, but gets 2 or 3 good his in before the scene transforms into the test administrators applauding, which is still part of the simulation. The claps were not real. The cheers were not real. Tris was not being congratulated on conquering her “rapist” anymore than she was congratulated on fending off crows with fire. They “congratulated” Tris and then told to shoot her family. The problem with the fear landscape scene is two-fold, socially and artistically, in both the novel and the film.

In the novel, Four warns Tris about using her Divergent abilities to manipulate the simulation because the test administrators will  have her killed if they find out she is Divergent. However, she uses her same old tricks to get through the landscape and the test administrators don’t bat an eyelash. Neither does Four. (A gun magically appears for her to shoot the crows; she breaks the glass to keep herself from drowning; she shoots herself instead of her family.) Four even yells at her after she completes a test-run of her fear landscape for not acting Dauntless during the simulation. If Tris is supposed to give Dauntless responses in the novel as she did in the film, she would have given into her “fear of intimacy” and had sex with Four with all the administrators watching. But, of course, since “Divergent” is a young adult novel, that would be to risqué, so the better option is for her to give a Divergent response: “I am not having sex with a simulation.” The artistic problem is here is the author choose an adult topic for a young adult book, which then forced her to write in a plot hole for the sake of preserving morality and innocence. However, Tris’ fear of intimacy is very three-dimensional and is later explored between herself and Four; both discover the other one is a virgin, hence the reason for being afraid of intimacy. Tris was concerned that Four would expect that of her and he tells he no, that he would never expect or demand sex.

The film largely corrected the gaping plot hole that was Tris’ entire fear landscape, but Tris’ fear of intimacy is changed to rape. There is nothing wrong in altering the book in such a way, but the execution was poor and convoluted. Earlier in the film, we see Four and Tris kiss for the first time (without the romantic lead-up, which made the scene awkward and not believable. Bella and Edward had a more believable romance on-screen than Tris and Four. So many beautiful moments between Tris and Four gone to waste from the novel.) After a few seconds, Tris pulls away, smiling, but tells Four, “I don’t want to go to fast”, and he says, “Okay.” Awesome — a girl who can articulate her wants and needs, who isn’t afraid to put the brakes on an intimate encounter. Four respects her wishes. Gold stars for everyone.

But, instead of sticking to the novel, the screenwriters had to write in a simulation scene where Four is about to rape Tris. Here’s the problem with that: you are telling the audience that Tris is afraid Four is sex-driven monster in disguise who will resort to anything to get his dick wet, when none of that has been directly shown nor alluded to at any point in the film. I do not believe “getting raped by Four” is actually a fear of Tris’ because we have seen otherwise; the audience already knows he isn’t like that based on their first kiss scene. Four saves Tris from being assaulted by three other Dauntless initiates and, in the book, Peter sexually assaults Tris, which leaves Four absolutely disgusted with him. The other fears, we have to take at face value because we have no other information confirming nor denying that she is, in-fact, terrified of getting pecked to death by birds, for example. Yes, the writers are making a social statement about consent by having Tris fight off Four, but they are forgetting what they learned in characterization 101 and probably need a refresher course in psychology. If they wanted to make rape a fear of Tris’ they could have used one of her attackers, like Peter, or just a body without a face. It is not believable that she would be afraid of being raped by Four, specifically.

In rare fashion, I not only finished reading a novel on the New York Times best seller list, but I also saw the film adaptation. I cannot resist dystopian fiction, so I borrowed the book from a co-worker, who said, “You’ll love it”. I didn’t so much love the book as I was happy that it was better than “Twilight”. However, I cannot say the same about the film version. If we are going to change the discourse of rape-culture, we have to make it believable. The “Divergent” rape scene is the equivalent of posting an ill-researched political meme on Facebook.

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