Insurgent Movie Strays from Book, but Strangely Satisfies.

Insurgent posterI went into the Insurgent film without a lot of high hopes.  I came out quite surprised at how much I liked it, and even more surprised by the reason.  Because it was the same reason that usually has me hating movie adaptations of favorite books.  Because the filmmakers deviated so much from the source material.  At the end of the day, this was an action movie loosely based on Roth’s Insurgent, not Insurgent:the Movie.  If you are expecting as faithful a book adaptation as the Harry Potter and Hunger Games franchises, or even the first Divergent movie, you will be disappointed.  The percentage of book-congruent material is closer to that of the Little House TV series. But remarkably, the film mostly worked for me.

To be fair up front, every worry I expressed in my comments on the trailers came true.  Except the one about the train.  Turns out Four did have a good reason for leaping in front of the train. But I digress.  Spoilers ahead, after the jump.


Insurgent was my favorite book of the series, as Tris and company visit all five faction headquarters, plus the factionless hideout (some of them twice!) picking up insights and allies on the way. In particular, Tris picks up pointers from the three factions she dislikes, as she learns the importance of telling her friends the truth from Candor, forgiveness from Amity and appreciation for Erudite virtues from her encounters with Cara and Fernando. As she tells us:

Sometimes I feel like I am collecting the lessons each faction has to teach me, and storing them in my mind like a guidebook for moving through the world.

InScannerSIBRAs I have mentioned previously, I particularly like the mental showdown between Tris and Jeanine in the fMRI lab, and the neurological explanation for Divergence. But it was clear to me from the beginning that Tris and Tobias’s journey would have to be abbreviated, unless Insurgent, rather than Allegiant was going to be the book split into two films (which would have suited me fine.)  And, I can appreciate the fact that an “epic showdown” with one party voluntarily lying in  a scanner and the other in a lab coat behind a one-way mirror lecturing her flunkies on mirror neurons and the orbitofrontal cortex might come across as a bit dull to anyone who doesn’t share my passion for neuroscience.


The filmmakers’ solution was to place the crucial message from the “Founders” in a heretofore unseen Light Brite magical box, that Tris’s parents apparently managed to hide from their kids in their minimalist Abegnation home for 16 years.  Turns out, to open it requires a person to “solve” a simulation puzzle from each faction, so only a very strong Divergent can open it. For some reason, Jeanine needs it opened right now, dammit, even though she clearly has no clue what is in it, so she needs to find just the right Divergent to do that for her before she exterminates them all for the good of society.  Three guesses who the lucky Divergent Keymistress is.

Tris cableSo, after surrendering herself to Jeanine, Tris shows her mastery of all the factions not by visiting each one in turn, but by showing, in simulation, that she is capable of being brave, honest, selfless, smart and finally forgiving. And since the one she has the hardest time forgiving is herself (for the deaths of her parents and Will), that is her final task. Oh, yeah, unlike the other simulations, which worked fine with a simulee sitting comfortably in a DIVERGENTchair, the Box apparently requires the Opener to be jabbed and suspended by extremely dangerous cables, which have this nasty habit of killing people who are not Divergent enough, as Jeanine’s first few guinea pigs found out.  I guess the technology has improved since Edith Prior’s day. But the point is, even as she is thrashing about in the cables, Tris does indeed 1) integrate the Big Five Personality Factors into her own personality and 2) use her mind to defeat Jeanine, and that is what was important to me. Though they did not have the one-way mirror, there was a lovely shot of Tris’s face being reflected above Jeanine’s as she stared out of her glass prison, which brought to mind one of my favorite parts of Insurgent.

It’s not so difficult to pretend that I’m speaking to Jeanine when I speak to my own reflection… I am like Jeanine. And I can either despise it, attack it, eradicate it…  or I can use it.

Some other interesting points of the movie.

70299.cr2Peter the Smart Ass. Peter’s personality transplant from the last movie continues, and actually serves to lighten up the tension, with Miles Teller delivering a sparkling performance,  alternately seeming to channel Eddie Haskell, Rolf from the Sound of Music and Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor. Peter may actually undergo more character development than anyone else in the film, as he actually seems to catch a clue and realize he’s picked the wrong side. Tris, in the lab, manages to overpower him, smash his head against the glass, Peterand threatens to shoot him unless Jeanine releases her. Jeanine, in her ice princess glory, replies “Go ahead, I have plenty of guards,” and poor Peter genuinely looks stunned that his new boss considers him expendable. Shortly thereafter, simulated-Tris spares his simulated-life in her simulated-rescue from the lab, which earns her a “pass” on her Abnegation test and seems to shock Peter once again. So, there is a double reason for Peter’s change of heart. It will be interesting to see how this character pans out in Allegiant.

Caleb_smAnsel Elgort’s Caleb, on the other hand, after proving himself a jabbering idiot on the train and in the factionless headquarters, seems to undergo a lobotomy, as if he himself was a simulation zombie. His only useful service to Jeanine is to visit Tris in the chamber and take her gun so she can’t pull a Nightlock Berry, in one of the most eye rolling and derivative moments of the film. Later, he lamely tries to assure Tris her parents would actually approve of him handing her over for slaughter; Ansel didn’t even seem to believe the script funeralhimself.  Judging from the liveliness of his performance, maybe he thought this was a sequel to  The Fault in Our Stars and he was still playing AugustusIn any case, when Tris “dies” and Jeanine assures Caleb that Erudite is his family now, you sense even she thinks her faction has inherited the short end of the Prior Sibling stick. At this point, if I were Tris, I would sacrifice myself to save Peter before Brother Dearest.

The-Divergent-Series-Insurgent-Christina-WallpapersChristina’s role is greatly reduced, though, as in the book,  she does briefly hate Tris for Will’s death. Interestingly, she, not some anonymous Dauntless girl, is one of the attempted forced suicides. Tori manages to rescue the little boy and Tris grabs Christina at the nick of time, but Marlene (whose name we learn after she takes theInsurgent-poster-uriah plunge) isn’t so lucky.  Christina forgives Tris pretty darn quick after that, and that’s pretty much it for her part in the movie. Tori, interestingly enough, appears to have acquired several doctorates along with her tattoo artist training, as she is suddenly Dauntless’s chief scientist and medical examiner, pulling a Quincy by figuring out how to remove the inject simulation devices in the nick of time. Uriah turns up, gets a name, is confirmed as another Divergent and has one key Evelynconversation with Tris, but doesn’t do much else.  Naomi Watts looks and acts too young to be Four’s mother, and seems to have set herself up with pretty nice digs for a Factionless. She has lovely hair and make-up, a prominent ring on her finger, a nice table setting complete with crystal wine glasses and apparently plenty of food.  If the Factionless are as impoverished as they are supposed to be, I’m surprised they let her get away with that. Her overt hostility to Tris is seen only in Tris’s nightmares.  And, oh yes, Tris and Four appear to consummate their relationship before Tris slips away to Erudite.

MarcusandJohannaThe Invisible People.  Marcus has practically nothing to do in this movie, except remind Tobias he is his father, and yell “I’m an Abnegation leader!  I demand amnesty!” when the Dauntless traitors invade Amity, which may or may not have been a way to buy our heroes some time to escape. Octavia Spencer was quite good as Johanna, but underused.  The “streamlining” of the movie means that, right after Peter fakes Tris’s death, she wakes up and insists they double back and open the box, so there is no descent into the trash shoot, no escape to Jack KangAbnegation, no regrouping with the Factionless, no plea to Amity for help, no Johanna’s Doctors without Borders, no Tris betraying Tobias by siding with Marcus and no Caleb and Four digging the message out of the computer to broadcast to the people. Daniel Dae Kim gives a brief but powerful performance as Jack Kang, with his deep voice reminiscent of a George Takei as he presides over the truth serum trial. Since he never turns scummy and tries to hand the Divergent over to Erudite, I think non-readers are going to wonder why no one wants him in charge, once everything goes to hell in a hand basket.

tris and fourMaybe that’s because nothing really goes to hell in a hand basket. Indeed, the most surprising thing to me was how upbeat the ending was. There is little to no indication that the factionless have seized the weapons and taken over the city, and, far from being a prisoner, Tris is greeted as a heroine once Edith Prior’s message is revealed. All the citizens consider this quite good news and they joyously stream out of their respective headquarters, apparently delighted at the prospect of venturing outside the fence to save the world. In fact, if you had cut the last scene, where the mantle of Chief Villainess is abruptly passed from Jeanine to Evelyn, you could have ended the series on a quite happy note, and just forget Allegiant ever existed. Which might be fine with many of the readers.  Indeed, unlike with Catching Fire and Mockingjay I, it is almost as if the movie-makers wanted to be prepared to end the franchise here, if profits from this film did not justify moving on to Allegiant.  Given that the opening night in my local theater was sold out, I don’t think that is likely, though.

XXX INSURGENTS MOV JY 4918 .JPG A ENTConsidering that the Insurgent movie diverged so much from the book, will Allegiant do something similar?  It’s hard to say.  There has to be some reason they introduced Uriah; his lines could have easily been taken by Tori. Marcus and Johanna did clearly know each other, and Evelyn is clearly poised to show her true colors, so those alliances/rivalries seem likely to develop.  Most importantly, Edith Prior explicitly calls Chicago an “experiment,” which is different from the book, where the whole experiment thing seemed to come out of left field.

Tris truthOn the other hand, there is absolutely no hint of Tris’s extra-special immunity to all sera at this point; it was clear at her Candor trial that she, unlike book-Tris, told the truth about Will only because the serum forced her.  And, unlike in the book, the Erudite now have these handy-dandy little portable scanners that instantly tell you not only if someone is Divergent, but what percentage they are– Tris was 100%; I don’t think anyone else was higher than 40%. (Makes you wonder where those gadgets were during the Dauntless attack on Abnegation, which supposed to have been at most a couple of days before this movie began, huh?  Would have been pretty useful) The idea that an individual could have a percentage of “Divergence” pretty much makes the whole “Genetically pure/genetically damaged” thing even less plausible, not that it was ever a great explanation in the first place.


So, at this point it is hard to speculate what may be beyond the movie-fence, or what will develop within it. My best guess, however, is that the stage is set for Peter and Caleb to switch roles, with Caleb so ashamed of his betrayal that he mind-wipes himself, and Peter the one who hangs around and tries to act human.  As with so much else, we’ll have to wait and see.

But, in the meantime, see the movie. It is not true to the book, but if you liked the book, you’ll like it.



  1. Tobias Eaton says

    Personally, I think I would’ve liked it better if I HADN’T read the book. But, you know, that’s just my opinion.

  2. I loved the book Insurgent, but was horribly disappointed by the movie! Since this review seems accurate, I’m surprised you liked it. I loved the first movie (Divergent) as well as the book. If only the director and screenwriters had stayed! (Why didn’t they do everything they could to keep them?! ) I was not nearly as thrilled with the 3rd book, Allegiant, and have no idea why they would basically all but skip over the second book, which was great, only to make the 3rd book, which was fairly boring, into 2 movies.

  3. Henk Kersten says

    I was very disappointed with the movie insurgent. It was so far from the book that I cannot bare to watch the next movie. I really loved the Divergent series and was looking forward to the movies but I feel that the movie writers have done a great disservice.

  4. What’s happened to the site? Is everything ok?

  5. The comments are back up! I’m so glad!

  6. I liked the book, and i liked the movie, as two separate entities, like ice cream, and hamburgers. Both are good. Just not the same thing. both the book, movie, and the food examples are good by themselves. I agree with the author. If you like the book, you’ll like the movie.

  7. Louise Freeman says

    Thank you, Jen! I must say, when I saw the Allegiant trailer, I am not sure I would have recognized it as Allegiant had they not provided the title. But, considering how disappointed some readers were with the book, maybe a more divergent Allegiant movie is what we need.

  8. Tris Prior says

    I think it horrible they want to make a movie about a book but ends totally different so why would they do that

  9. TRACY DUGAS says

    I Love the series and the movies. I am very interested in the box. I want to purchase / replica of the mystery box. Please let me know where or how to get my hands on one. I hope it is just like it with the blue lights. it is very cool.

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