At any given moment Peter can be an enemy or an ally. Either way, he is surprisingly the highlight of the Divergent film franchise. Here’s why I love him like the Dauntless love cake.
At first glance, it seems like Peter’s arc in the Divergent book series was adapted pretty faithfully for the screen. In Divergent, he is the arrogant bully during Dauntless initiation, in Insurgent, he saves Tris to settle his debts, and in Allegiant, he travels beyond the wall. All of Peter’s main plot points are there in the three films which have been released so far.
Does that mean he is the same character in the movies as in the books? Not even close! The addition and deletion of some more minor things have completely changed Peter from somebody whom I hated and feared in the books, to somebody who I love to watch on the screen. By removing some of Peter’s most cruel moments from Divergent (sexually assaulting Tris during the attack at the chasm and …the Edward incident), the films have allowed him to be someone that is possible, and even easy to like and root for. In the book, his actions were based in childish jealousy and an alarming amount of cruelty and made him a character that was incomprehensible and largely irredeemable.
Whereas in the books, many of Peter’s actions are pointlessly evil and serve him no real purpose, his actions in the films all serve to get him closer to his goals. He is never mean without reason, aside from one or two lines that were thrown in to assert his villain status. He is by no means kind either, but there is a big difference between an unkind person and an evil person. From now on, I’ll leave the book version of Peter typing blissfully away at his office job without his memories of more difficult times and focus on the film version that Miles Teller brought to life.
Everyone in the Divergent story has their own motivations for doing what they do, and it’s not often clear who is “right.” Especially since everyone’s reasoning and motivations are frequently changing based on the information they receive. Tris starts off with the intention of finding herself in Dauntless while hiding her divergence. Tobias actually begins with the intention of leaving Dauntless to avoid what is happening with the Erudite, but his plans change once he meets the Six to his Four. Both of their priorities drastically alter to encompass something much bigger than themselves, but even then their motivations don’t always align.
The thing about Peter is that throughout everything, his priorities and motivations never change! He is always looking out for number one. He saw that Jeanine held the power in Divergent, so he went to her for a job. When Tris threatened his life, he was all about Team FourTris. Four tried to leave him behind, so he betrayed them to his lover boy Eric. When he chose Tris’ side in Insurgent due to his intriguing reluctance to be “in debt,” he was all “hey guys let’s take this Erudite witch down!” Even in Allegiant he saw that his chances were better beyond the wall, so he forced his way into the bureau brigade.
Peter’s goal isn’t simply to survive. That would be normal, and probably is what most of the Chicago citizens are hoping for in the midst of everything that’s happening. Not everybody is built for revolution, and a lot of people are probably happy to stay out of the drama or don’t even know which side they would fight for (put me on that list).
Beyond mere survival, Peter strives for success. That’s who he was when he first joined Dauntless and wanted to be the top initiate, and that’s who he has been the whole time. He told Jeanine he wasn’t content to just be one of her mindless soldiers, he wanted a position with advancement opportunities. Also, he didn’t work so hard to get out of Chicago just to sit in a surveillance room watching it all day, so he made a deal with
the devil David to get what he wanted. Despite everything happening, he is still intent on living the life of his choosing.
He’s not from Erudite, but I bet he would fit right in there. You can’t be stupid and stay ahead of the game the way that he has. He uses his intelligence and cunning to exploit people’s weaknesses and to do things that will put him on whichever is the winning side of the moment. He is so Slytherin I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw him leading an army of snakes outside the wall in Ascendant!
So, I’ve described why I think Peter in the Divergent movies is better than his literary counterpart, but don’t forget, I’m claiming that he’s the best part of the whole film franchise! Isn’t that a bit of a stretch, you may ask? I don’t think so!
First of all, I’ll state the obvious. Peter brings some much needed humor to the series. When I watch these films I find myself looking forward to his one liners more than almost anything else. Yes, some of his jokes cross the line from funny to mean, but that is sometimes exaggerated by the fact that they’re landing on relatively humorless ears most of the time. Tris and Four are many, very positive things, but they wouldn’t exactly be your ideal audience if you were doing an open mic at a comedy club.
Aside from lightening the mood from time to time, his comments also serve to point out the problems with the world and highlight the flaws of other characters. For someone who is a supporting character, he controls a huge amount of the plot of the Divergent movie series with both his words and his actions, all while maintaining his own identity.
Evidently, maintaining an identity is not an easy thing to do in the Divergent film franchise. I’m often left wondering what would cause one of the characters to act in a particular way, and I usually end up disappointed with my conclusions. It’s difficult to fully support a main character, like Four, when he is often used as a plot device with his own personality and feelings being disregarded. Somehow Peter, who is the very definition of a plot device, manages to come out being more full and interesting than those with more screen time.
He is definitely selfish, and usually unkind, but rarely villainous. I don’t believe you should label somebody a villain just because their goals don’t line up with the protagonist’s, especially when the protagonist’s goals are sometimes questionable. It’s not like Tris and Four are welcoming him with open arms and treating him like an equal. They discard him just as easily as he does them. He really doesn’t owe them anything.
It is fascinating to see how unyielding he is in the pursuit of his desired ends, but he is still not without surprises. Even though his goals are fairly predictable, his actions aren’t. He still throws out surprises that add depth to his character, such as saving Tris’ life and going back inside the wall. These things couldn’t have been easy for him to pull off and it’s interesting to watch him do it!
Peter’s commitment to all things Peter, his consistency as a character and his ability to make me laugh more and more with each rude remark make him the most interesting and the least infuriating character to watch in the Divergent movies. I am intrigued to see what they do with him in Ascendant. His semi-redemptive arc in the books fell short since it didn’t have time to fully develop (and he was just too evil), but I believe they have an opportunity to give him a strong ending in the movies. Whether they choose to redeem him or let him continue being his selfish self that I love to watch so much, I’m along for the zip-line ride!