The Divergent Series: Insurgent takes an established world, created by Veronica Roth in her hit series, and ramps up the volume to a whole new level. Every person in our (real, not fictional) world has experienced the feeling of not fitting in – while they’re told they need to find a way to fit into the box of their culture, to be a worthwhile human being. Most people, at some point in their existence end up finding a group of individuals that they mesh well with, and hunkering down for the long haul. When you discover the wavelengths that coincide with your own, it’s extremely difficult to leave them. They are like magnetic fields that you’d feel lost without – without that force, you feel like you could float away and not have any handholds or shelves to put things on in your head. A life without any organization, set of “acceptable” values that you are required to possess, seems like a life you wouldn’t want to live. However, I’ve found (and The Divergent Series does an excellent job of teaching) that a world free of boxes is an excellent world to live in…but it’s hard to maintain your mental health and happiness when it seems like every single person in the world is telling you that you have to be like them, to be a good person. Most people seem to think that the dauntless decision to maintain your confident individuality is the wrong choice.
We start the film with Tris Prior, freshly escaped from her Dauntless confines, wielding a pair of scissors and chopping off her long blonde hair that her mother used to cut for her. When she got her haircut, used to be the only time she was ever supposed to focus on her own self – she grew up in Abnegation, which is where you aren’t supposed to think of yourself. Ever. If you do, it’s self serving. Even the title of her home faction means to “give up” or “relinquish.” This is very relatable to me because I cut my hair off right before I graduated high school, and I found that it was one of the best choices I’ve ever made for my own identity – I had kept my hair long (and hated it, by the way) due to the fact that I thought that I needed to keep it long due to my family and my culture’s values. Cutting my hair off was the first step in asserting my own individuality. In Insurgent by Veronica Roth, she says, “How can I look the same when she’s gone and everything is different?” she is referring to her mother. However, she’s also referring to herself. How can she look the same, when the old, pigeonholed Beatrice Prior no longer exists? Tris Prior is who she now is, and she needs to own that metamorphosis to truly accept her new identity.
The performances in Insurgent are magnificent – I was especially impressed (apart from the obvious – Theo James, Shailene Woodley, and Kate Winslet) with Miles Teller and Ansel Elgort. I could see everything behind Caleb Prior’s (Elgort’s) eyes – he was so dedicated to the system he was raised, and later indoctrinated into, that he can’t let it go. Letting it go would mean that he has to absolutely turn his back on everything he’s known to be real and true. So, he doesn’t. He finds himself afraid and alone in a world that is crumbling around him – the mixture of selflessness and intelligence often results (as I know well, due to my teenage years) in a person who is shy, socially introverted, with a crippling lack of confidence. At least, until bravery is mixed in (as Tris Prior discovers). I was impressed with Miles Teller’s performance because he manages to make you love Peter. Peter, in the novels, is a bully. In the film, he does things like leave our heroes and turn on them right when things get dire, and turn them over to the Dauntless soldiers. Seem like it makes sense to switch over the Erudite and become a soldier for their faction? He’ll do it. He’s a seamless character chameleon, and he knows exactly how to manipulate his relationships for the greatest gain. By the finale of the film, you can see and understand that he loves Tris like a sister but is doing what he has to do to survive himself. It’s all we can do in this world – love who we love, but look out for ourselves as well. This is why total selflessness is normally not a good idea. The combination of Candor and Dauntless often ends with people like Peter who are mean and ruthless, because (unlike Tris) they don’t have the underlying values of compassion beneath it all.
Fans were very unhappy with the addition of the “faction box” which Tris has to open, due to Jeanine Matthews (Kate Winslet) wanting to control what it contains. However, I think that the box was an excellent addition, due to how it drives the plot. I am not a book purist – I see the book and the movie as separate entities. Things that work in a novel often do not work in a movie because they are too cerebral, not direct enough, or not visual enough. The issue with the plot of Insurgent in the movie is that the central idea of the novel is not visual enough to make it work in a movie – if you adapted the novel exactly as it was written, it would seem like a Divergent clone to general audiences. The box took many scenes from the novel that were pivotal, and put them all in the same place so they could be more easily digested – the first movie did this at well, with the concept of what being “divergent” actually meant. In a book, the reader can come up with what that means for themselves, but in a movie, it needs to be more of a solid idea. Without the box, the movie would not have worked.
I absolutely loved the world of the factionless – Jonny Weston did an excellent job as Edgar, the character that replaces Edward in The Divergent Series: Insurgent. People who don’t fit into systems are our world’s factionless – those who are racially stereotyped, stereotyped by appearance/gender, or left to fend for themselves when they have no way to make their way back into the world where being comfortable and supported by the government is even feasible. We all have seen homeless people, folks who are hard on their luck, or those who are effortlessly creative due to being able to put all their energy into their eclectic living situations and appearances. I enjoyed being able to see references to real world groups of human beings in our world, in the Divergent world – the “factionless” have an appearance much like those who “rage against the machine” and are in the punk community. They are angry, and they are not afraid to use brutal force to get what they want.
The plot structure that follows Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley) realizing that she needs to forgive herself, was wonderfully achieved. Her dauntless bravery and truthful candor results in her not having a large affinity for peace and zen calm – Johanna Reyes (Octavia Spencer) teaches her that fighting for what she believes is important, but letting self-hate fester inside of yourself is never the way forward, regardless of the ills you’ve caused in your life. I’ve had similar experiences in my life where self-depricating thought patterns take over – and the only way to escape that never ending path of torture that Tris experiences (where she feels like her choices killed her family and her friends and her culture) is to accept that everyone only ever does what they believe is right in the moment, and to forgive yourself fully and whole heartedly. The mix of excellent special effects, the interesting fight between “real world” Tris and “simulation” Tris, and the real emotional core behind it all, was wonderful and made for an excellent viewing experience. Shailene Woodley and Theo James have absolutely palpable chemistry throughout the entire film, and it feels real. The acting is all extremely impressive. I think all the fans, if they can focus on the essence of the emotion behind the story and not the precise plot, will be extremely happy with this movie. See The Divergent Series: Insurgent when it hits theaters on March 20th in the United States.