If you haven’t seen Divergent, you’d better check out my review or you’ll be just as confused as Fiancé was when I dragged him along. If you haven’t seen it but are in a particularly stubborn mood, go ahead and read, but don’t get mad at me when you don’t understand stuff. If you have seen it, fabulous; you have my blessing to read. If you’re getting peeved at this disclaimer, just shut up and read already.
Insurgent picks up a short time after the events of Divergent. Tris, Tobias, Caleb, and Peter have found refuge with the Amity faction, which disintegrates pretty quickly once Eric finds them and Peter betrays their presence. Tris, Tobias, and Caleb run into a group of factionless aboard a supply train, and Tris discovers that Tobias is the son of Evelyn Eaton, presumed dead but very much alive and the leader of the factionless.
Evelyn is keenly interested in using Tobias and Tris, as well as the surviving Dauntless hiding out in Candor, to start a civil war and overthrow the faction system. Tobias and Tris are more interested in taking out Jeanine now that Abnegation is gone and the Divergents are being systematically wiped out. Little do they know that Jeanine has found a centuries-old box from the Founders (the people who started the faction system) and needs a Divergent to open it.
Leaving Caleb behind with the factionless, Tris and Tobias go to Candor and are made to stand trial for their involvement in the attack on Abnegation. Under the influence of truth serum, Tobias tells the Candor judges that Jeanine was responsible for the attack, while Tris is forced to admit not only that feels responsible for her parents’ death, but also that she pulled the trigger on her friend Will.
Later that night, there’s an attack on Candor by Jeanine’s Dauntless, who are now allied with Erudite. Eric finds Tris, discovers that she’s the ideal subject for Jeanine’s experiments, and is about to take her back to Erudite when the factionless and good-guy Dauntless rescue her — and Tobias kills Eric in the process. But all isn’t well: in an attempt to flush out Tris for the experiment, Jeanine causes the suicide of one of the Dauntless girls.
Tris gives herself up to the Erudite and willingly puts herself through a series of faction-related simulations to confirm her Divergence and open the box. The only faction that causes her difficulty is Amity, and she nearly dies trying to complete it, due in part to the fact that Caleb is now helping Jeanine. Tris is saved by Peter and Tobias, then goes back into the simulations to finish opening the box and hear the Founders’ message.
The message reveals to everyone that Divergents aren’t a problem — they’re the solution to the aggression and violence that tore the world apart. Now that the existence of Divergents is confirmed, the gates outside the city are opened and all factions stream toward them, eager to discover the world that no one has seen for two hundred years. And Evelyn straight-up shoots Janine in the head. End credits. Neat.
Much as I like Tris as a character — even if she is a special little snowflake who’s the saviour of the world, and usually that grates on my nerves like nobody’s business — I think Shailene Woodley was the wrong choice for her. I do like the actress, especially in The Fault in Our Stars, but I don’t think she displays the necessary combination of outward fragility and inner ferocity that the character demands.
I do like Theo James as Tobias, though. For a long time I didn’t like the character because he seemed like just another flat love interest to support the lead. But after reading Four, the companion book to the series that’s told from his perspective, I have a much better understanding of the character and a greater appreciation for his stoic strength. And I think James embodies that perfectly. (Also, he’s pretty attractive.)
I loooooove Kate Winslet as Jeanine. This critically minded, brutally matter-of-fact woman isn’t as emotionless as she seems; it’s just that her emotions only pertain to her work. She goes from “I understand that Tris is about to crash, but you need to push her further to complete the sim” to “NO TRIS WAKE UP BRING HER BACK YOU GUYS I NEED HER” in the blink of an eye. That felt very genuine and human to me.
Caleb I didn’t quite understand, because his betrayal is more to move the plot forward than anything else. He says that, as a former Abnegation, nothing is more selfless to him than to sacrifice his last living family member for the good of everyone. But it’s been made pretty clear to us that whatever characteristics looked like Abnegation were in fact Erudite in disguise. So was it the research driving him forward? The curiosity? That’s something I have to ponder more.
But the big part of this movie, at least for me, isn’t the characterization. It’s a very common problem for the second book or film in a trilogy to suffer from Sequel Syndrome: a lack of awesome action because it’s just a bunch of filler content leading up to a massive, action-packed confrontation and emotionally satisfying climax in the third and final installment. Insurgent doesn’t have that problem.
The beginning is slow to illustrate the difference between Dauntless and Amity, and to provide us with one last moment of peace before everything starts to fall apart. It’s also to make us, the audience, form an opinion of the Amity before the movie’s climax. And that opinion is “Amity is a bunch of overly cheerful hippies who don’t do confrontation.” Of all the factions, even including the dead Abnegation, Amity sounds like the lamest one. They’re the Hufflepuffs of the group.
But it’s Amity’s qualities of non-confrontation and forgiveness that end up being pivotal to the film. While Divergent was about Tris throwing off her peaceful past and unleashing the strength, courage, and brutality inside herself, Insurgent is about finding that peace again and applying it to forgiveness.
If you’ve ever been wronged — and I don’t mean someone ate the last pizza pocket; I mean the kind of traumatizing wrong that shapes your entire life as a result — you know how difficult it is to forgive. It’s a whole other level of selflessness that just doesn’t seem possible, even for a faction that’s all about placing the other person first.
I understand why Tris can let go of her hatred of Jeanine before she can let go of her own self-hatred. Because when something terrible happens, you can only blame another person so much before the rest of the blame has to get turned onto yourself. And it’s even worse when you bear some responsibility, no matter how large or small, for the way things turned out. Because you, above all people, should have done something to change them.
And that’s where the impossible kindness of Amity comes in. You can’t just be kind to the people around you; that’s easy. It’s not hard to thank a bus driver or tip your waiter extra or say a kind word to someone in your life. What’s hard is looking at yourself in the mirror and deciding that you’re worthy of the same level of kindness, because only you know the darkness inside yourself, and you’ve already judged that you can’t possibly be worthy.
Each faction — and thus, each person — requires different strengths: courage, intelligence, selflessness, honesty, and kindness. Divergent was about the first. And while it seems that Dauntless and Amity are near-polar opposites, they’re in fact vitally important to who Tris is as a character.
After all the bloodshed of the first movie, Tris is a broken shell of a person who’s only focused on hatred and revenge. But by tapping into the qualities she least values — after all, it was the first faction to be immediately ruled out during her aptitude test — she unlocks the secrets of the city’s past and opens the way for their future.
Courage without kindness is ruthlessness. Kindness without courage is submission. Tris is neither ruthless nor submissive. And since she is found to be 100% Divergent, we must assume that she has the potential for Amity within her. And for a girl who wanted to be seen as nothing less than faultlessly strong, that’s a huge leap forward in character development.
This wasn’t just an adaptation of a dystopian teenybopper paperback. It was a deeply emotional action movie in its own right, and it made me believe in and support the characters. Suffice it to say, I’m psyched for the next two films (yes, they’re doing the Harry Potter thing). I know what’s going to happen, and I know the important role Tris’s newfound inner peace will play in the eventual conclusion.
I know the purpose of the film was to kick off the civil war, end the faction system, and shift the story’s setting out into a shattered world. But to me, this was far more a character piece than anything else. The word “insurgent” means “a rebel or revolutionary,” but its source means “arising.” Much like a phoenix (or a Mockingjay, if you want to make the obligatory comparison to Hunger Games), Tris is rising from the ashes of her former life to become a new person.
And that person might just have the potential to save the world.
Final Grade: A-
- I got really distracted by the way Tobias pronounces “Eaton.” He doesn’t say the T. It’s like “eeh-un,” and for like ten minutes I was mouthing it to myself, trying to figure out why he was saying it like that. Because you know what he’s saying, but it doesn’t sound the way it should.
- Unless they have mad loudspeaker systems, the concept of TV screens on the sides of buildings doesn’t make sense to me. Seems like a far-fetched narrative device. Why not just have radio broadcasts? Or are there no radios in the future?
- I super like that they brought Tris’s mom back for the sim scene. Even though she was just a fabrication, she was definitely a necessary part of Tris’s closure and self-forgiveness.
- Hey, Jack Kang is that guy from Lost! Glad to see you made it back from Purgatory okay, buddy.
- I’m a huge fan of scenes where the girls cut their hair. Partly because it represents closing off the soft, feminine sides of themselves, which is always a super cool part of character development, and partly because I wish I had the bone structure to pull it off. That is all.