Exclusive: Neil Burger talks intimacy fear in ‘Divergent’ book vs. movie: “It’s not about rape”

April 8, 2014

While at the Divergent premiere in London’s Leicester Square, I had the chance to chat with the film’s director, Neil Burger. The intimacy scene was changed quite a bit in the film adaptation – in Veronica Roth’s novel, it’s very much a fear of intimacy, but in the movie this fear was skewed somewhat towards a fear of sexual assault. It’s certainly much more violent than it is in the book, and since Tris really takes command of the situation, it’s become empowering to women and spawned many positive articles across the internet. Reporters here at Page to Premiere were somewhat conflicted about the change since it made it seem like the scene was Tris being afraid of being raped by Four, but that’s not actually what it was in the book. Neil Burger discussed how this change tied in to Beatrice Prior’s story, and why this scene is an important one to have on film.

In the book Tris’ fear simulation with Four is quite intimate, and then in the film it’s quite forced. However, she adamantly says ‘no.’ Women found this scene quite empowering, even though it’s a subtle difference from the source material.

NEIL BURGER: Yeah! What’s interesting is that some people found it really empowering and they loved it, and then other of people sort of objected to it and others felt like they didn’t know what to think of it. I think the important thing to remember is that Tris keeps control, you know what I mean? She maintains control of her life, of her body, of her choices, and I think that’s what that scene is about. It’s not about rape, it’s about somebody keeping control and I think that’s an empowering thing. Taking control is the main message.

What did you think of this scene in the Divergent movie?

Soraya is a 20 year-old that has a love for all fictional books, as well as film, a hell of a lot of TV-Shows and for the Page to Premiere site. She's currently studying English Literature at University, and hopes to become an editor within the Publishing Industry someday, and hopefully an author. When she's not on the site posting all things YA, she's on Twitter freaking out about her favourite fandoms. Follow @runnersmaze to join her!

  • Danielle Lowry

    I loved that change because lack of control is a more common fear than fear of intimacy. It is important for Teen Girls to see that they can say no and they can fight for themselves. Also with cutting the rape tones from the kidnapping scene, it was nice to see them add this.

  • http://www.yabookshelf.com/ Melissa Montovani

    I disagree that the fear of intimacy, especially sexual intimacy is uncommon. Yes, maybe a lack of control is something that is more universally feared, but when you think about teens experiencing sex for the first time, there definitely is a lot of fear mixed in with the excitement.

  • Kimmy West

    I believe what she means (since I’ve said this before) is that fear of assault is something VERY easy to understand and common amongst pretty much every human on earth. However, fear of sexual intimacy is something that isn’t seen on screen or talked about as often. I agree, I certainly believe that fear of sexual intimacy for the first time is a very common fear amongst people, it’s just not examined as often. So, I would have loved for them to have kept it in that way.

  • http://www.yabookshelf.com/ Melissa Montovani

    Honestly, I was really uncomfortable with the change from a fear of intimacy to what I saw as a fear of not only sexual assault, but also sexual assault of Tris by Four. I talk about it fully in a 3-part series, starting here:http://www.yabookshelf.com/2014/03/rape-culture-in-the-divergent-movie-heres-why-it-matters-part-1/

    Moreover, I really dislike Neil Burger saying what the scene is about and denying that it couldn’t be about rape. He may have directed the film, but as with any other medium, once it’s created and out there for the public, we have just as much a right to determine how we see the scene, and to me and many other people, it is a scene of attempted rape by the person that Tris has become closest to, which is, quite frankly, the worst sort of betrayal that one can experience.

  • http://www.yabookshelf.com/ Melissa Montovani

    I agree that the fear of assault is VERY easy to understand, too. That said, like you, I would have loved if they had kept the scene more true to the book, Kimmy. The scene plays out so much differently because of who the attacker is during the fear landscape than if they would’ve decided to show Peter assaulting Tris as happened in the book. I expected the latter to be in the film, but the more I think about it, the less I miss it. As I see it, though, by making Four an attacker, it really diminishes their relationship, even if Tris is able to get out of the situation.

  • Danielle Lowry

    I did not mean in any way to degrade someones fear, all I meant was that it is less common and a lot harder to translate on screen than fear of assault. And I believe they did it because not only was she just physically assaulted by three men, she doesnt know Four well enough yet and although she loves and trusts him, shes syill going to hold that fear of assault, because she regarded Al as a close almost best friend as an initiate.
    She did not alone fear intimacy, but the act of sex. But lack of control and assault is huge. It often happens to people in relationships by their partner and that calls this to attention. Its important to show Four willing to wait, especially in the film him being aged up.

  • http://www.yabookshelf.com/ Melissa Montovani

    I didn’t think you were degrading anyone’s fear, but I guess I just disagree that it’s less common, especially considering the fact that she’s a teen and a virgin. I do agree that it would be hard to translate on the screen, and I’ll admit that assault by one’s partner or at the very least, someone you know, is the most common type of sexual assault. I also see why she might doubt her trust of him after what happened with Al.

    That said there are many books and movies that show partner violence and assault, but few that show what Tris was actually afraid of – intimacy and sex (as I said before). I think it’s a missed opportunity to show a different experience that most teens would relate to, even if adult viewers would find it more removed from their current experience.

    As for this comment, “Its important to show Four willing to wait, especially in the film him being aged up.” I agree that it’s important to show him being willing to wait for sex, but the problem is that the film doesn’t show this at all. It shows him becoming increasingly sexually aggressive, even after she says “no,” to the point where he pins her to the bed and would’ve raped her if Tris hadn’t kicked him in the groin. I wish they would have showed him being not only willing to wait as was the case in the book, but perhaps even admitting that he was also a virgin (though it might make less sense since he was aged up).