I’ve been talking about Nerve by Jeanne Ryan since the book was published in 2012. (I’ve written a review, a personality quiz, and a list of reasons you should read the book.) So I’m a bit surprised myself that I’ve only now gotten around to watching the movie adaptation that was released in 2016. My primary reaction, now that I have is “Wow, this is different from the book.”
Certainly the overarching premise is the same: A normally introverted high school student named Vee feels like she needs to shake up her life by being more spontaneous, so she signs up to be a Player in a new virtual game of dares (which are proposed by paying spectators called Watchers). But things start to go horribly wrong and the game begins dangerously taking over her life.
The first half of the movie keeps this premise from the book, with some changes to what dares the Players must complete (and I think Vee is a little older, 18, in the movie to make some of the dares less clearly an issue for minors). However, the major themes are different between book and movie.
The book is really about character development and Vee’s shyness. Vee becomes worried her introversion and caution are keeping her back from living life to the fullest, so she enters the game in a attempt to be more spontaneous and, well, daring. I’ve seen some readers critique this and suggest that the overall message of the book is “Being shy is bad,” but I’d argue the opposite; the game gets dangerous enough that Vee can begin to see that the way she’d been living life might have been just fine after all. The book also explores the character development of some of Vee’s friends who get sucked into the game as either Watchers or Players themselves.
The movie is less concerned about the individual. Though Vee is still the focus, the message of the movie seems to be not about her but about the Watchers in general. The film takes on questions of mob mentality and how people’s behavior changes when they’re anonymous. (And actual scientific studies have shown that being anonymous frequently equates to being a much more horrible person than you would normally be. Even having a pseudonym online will encourage people to behave better than it they are 100% anonymous.) These are interesting, relevant questions, and I can see why the movie makers thought it was worth bringing them to the forefront. It simply isn’t what I would have expected to see happen in the movie, based on what I’d read in the book.
I don’t necessarily think one was “better” than the other, but I did find the differences between the book and the movie quite interesting.