Book v Film: The Divergent Series – Insurgent

“Cruelty does not make a person dishonest, the same way bravery does not make a person kind.”

Based on the second novel in Veronica Roth‘s young adult dystopian Divergent series, Insurgent, directed by Robert Schwentke, picks up as Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James), now fugitives on the run, are hunted by the leader of the power-hungry Erudite elite, Jeanine (Kate Winslet). In a search for allies and answers and racing against time, the fearless duo must find out what Tris’s family sacrificed their lives to protect, and why the Erudite leaders will do anything to stop them. Haunted by her past choices, Tris faces one impossible challenge after another, as they unlock the truth about the past, and ultimately the future, of their world.


The following post is a review of the film adaptation in comparison to the book. You can read my review of the book on its own here.

Divergent was one of my favourite films of last year, and I was super excited to have another young adult dystopian world to throw myself into. I watched the first film before reading the book (something I usually try to avoid), but after reading Roth’s first instalment in her trilogy, I quickly realised that the books were so much better than the films.

Eager to catch up, I soon began reading this second instalment in the trilogy, but it didn’t take me long to question whether it was heading in the right direction or not.

Divergent did well to set this brilliant dystopian world up, especially with the huge competition that the film has had with the likes of The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner. But, despite the comparisons that were doomed to be made, Divergent excelled on most levels: it had great leading characters, a well-crafted future world, a bit of romance, a lot of intrigue, and enough action to make for both a fast-paced read and an enticing viewing. Yet Insurgent falls flat on most of these levels.

Just like the first film, Insurgent is full to the brim of action; there’s just as much fighting and shooting, and even more violence than its predecessor, which is what made Divergent stand out, for me. Whilst the book itself is quite uneventful, what the film does well is to turn up these levels of action, with plenty of nifty visual effects to support them.

The performances are all on top form, as is to be expected, with the excellent addition of Naomi Watts as Evelyn. But, as much as I love Shailene Woodley, her character in the book becomes more unlikeable as the trilogy goes on, making her selfish acts more and more difficult to admire as she becomes more willing to act on her own behalf and let everybody else take the fall and added guilt. Theo James is great, too, but his character is also weakened by Tris’ actions, as he spends more time having to pick up the pieces of her mess than getting to be the tough, sexy, mentor that he was in the first film.

You can buy the series of books here

My main flaw with the book was that this romance got in the way and that we started to see Tris as a much weaker character as she spent more time sat by herself crying or worrying about Four than making any memorable act of courage. Insurgent really needed to see her step up and deal with her situation full on, but, instead, it all gets too much for her, and she’s more likely to be seen having a meltdown than doing anything worthwhile. Thankfully, the film avoids many of these scenes and does well to portray Tris as a much stronger character than the one she reads as. The film even completely avoids the fact that she’s scared to shoot a gun, just to get around the matter.

All we really needed from this second instalment was the answer to one question: what is the information that Jeanine is trying to hide? With a whole novel to build up to this one big reveal, very little is actually disclosed, and it’s not until the very end that we find out that something much bigger, whatever that may be, is going on. Unfortunately, what is revealed in Insurgent is what we already guessed from the end of Divergent. We all knew that something was happening outside of the walls, and there’s very little else that we’re told on top of that.

Whilst this instalment only had the purpose of answering one question, which it still manages to mess up, the film does well to fill in the gaps, ensuring that enough is happening to distract us from not being told the only thing we wanted to know.

But with so many changes from the book, which I will go into shortly, the Insurgent film manages to completely change the context it has in the rest of the trilogy. Roth is the first person to admit that there was too much plot going on in this instalment, with very little progression being made, but the way this adaptation has been handled means that Allegiant is already off to a bad start.

Differences From The Book:

It’s these changes that I cannot forgive the adaptation for, and whilst on a second viewing, having forgotten much of the book, the film does make for a much better viewing, when it all comes down to the detail, Insurgent is an incredibly weak chapter in the series.

First, I will go into some of the smaller, less relevant changes, and then I’ll get into the real reasons as to why Insurgent could have been a better film.

So, as for the smaller changes:

  • In the book, Tris is afraid of using/holding a gun after shooting Will, whereas in the film she is still upset about killing Will, but has no trouble using a weapon. As I said above, this allows for much more action in the film, but they could have mentioned it a little more at the start since it has such an influence on the whole book.
  • When Tris and Four are put under the truth serum, Tris is able to resist the serum since she is Divergent, but she chooses to tell everybody that truth anyway. In the film, it seems like Tris is in pain and that she’s only admitting to her sins because she’s being forced to. A big part of being Divergent, and something often mentioned, is that they can resist serums, so this should have been made more obvious as it was in the first film. It seems quite contradictory, as it is.
  • When the factionless are ambushed in the book, Eric decides which Divergents to take to Erudite using factors like age and aptitude test results. In the film, he has a device that scans the strength of someone’s Divergence. Tris is, of course, 100% Divergent, but this isn’t revealed until Allegiant.
  • There is no meeting between Max and Jack after the attack on Candor, demanding Jack to turn over the Divergent. Lynn does therefore not shoot Max, and instead Four kills him during their ambush, Shauna is not shot in the back, and Peter runs off to be a traitor much earlier on.
  • In the book, Tris is stated to have an aptitude for three factions: Abnegation, Dauntless and Erudite. In the film, she is shown to have an aptitude for all five factions, as seen when she solves the simulations from the box.
  • At the end of the book, Jeanine is killed by Tory who is seeking revenge for the death of her brother. In the film, Jeanine is killed by Evelyn in cold blood.

And now, onto the bigger changes:

  • One of the main differences in the film is the ‘mysterious box’. In the book, Insurgent begins with Tris hiding a hard drive that she stole from Jeanine in Divergent. This hard drive holds the important information about the simulations that Jeanine put the Dauntless under. In the film, the hard drive is replaced by The Box, which can only be unlocked by certain Divergent who can pass five faction-related tests, and a huge proportion of the film is dedicated to figuring out how to open it. This changes almost everything from then on as, instead of only studying Tris’ brain to figure out how to control Divergents, most of the film focuses on the Jeanine forcing Tris to solve the box’s simulations, because she believes the box contains a way to eliminate Divergents.
  • During one of the simulations in the film, Tris saves Peter from dying, from which he feels indebted to Tris and so helps her and Four to escape before the box is fully unlocked, injecting Tris with the paralytic serum before the Amity simulation. In the book, Tris saves Peter in real life, and Peter switches the death serum with the paralytic serum before Tris’ execution. This is the second time that Jeanine has sent Tris to her execution, which was also missed out in the first film.
  • Since there is no Box in the book, Tris and Four are supposed to escape to Erudite headquarters after faking Tris’ death, with Peter on their side but, in the film, Tris must stay and complete the simulations so that she can open the contents of the box.
  • Again, because there is no Box in the book, the message from Edith Prior is on a computer, but it has to be accessed by someone who knew the system. To access the computer, Tris is helped by Marcus and Christina to invade the Erudite compound, teaming up with Cara and Fernando to get to the computer to release the information. But Marcus’ inclusion is completely wiped out, and there’s no mention of Cara in all three instalments.
  • We also don’t see Marcus explain to Tris at Amity that her mother was actually on another mission when she showed up to save her daughter. Tris and Marcus have a much closer relationship from this point, not a friendly one, but they certainly have a shared aim. Marcus’ reduced role means two things: Firstly, we don’t get the chance to start liking his character as we do in the book and, instead, only see him as a mean brute. The second problem this change causes is that by helping Tris, Marcus is imprisoned with Tris and trialled for their betrayal by Evelyn at the start of Allegiant. It seems that he may be wiped out from all of these scenes too, which completely affects how the film will come to an end.
  • In the film, the message from Edith Prior is inside The Box, not on a computer, but she doesn’t mention her name and the insinuated link she has with Tris, and instead gives more information about how the factions were merely tests, which isn’t revealed until Allegiant.
  • As with Marcus’ reduced role, there are many more supporting characters who don’t have enough focus, including Uriah, Zeke, Lynn, Shauna, Cara, and Marlene. They’ve all had very small roles (if one at all) since their introductions in Divergent, and even though some of them play big parts in Allegiant, they’ve all been kept in the background.
    • Uriah had a small role in the first film, despite being an Abnegation transfer and becoming good friends with Tris. It is revealed in Insurgent that he is Divergent too, but we needed to see more of his friendship with Tris in the build-up to his bigger role in Allegiant.
    • Marlene, now Uriah’s girlfriend, was again not included in Divergent, and although we see her death in this film, we don’t know her well enough or see any of her relationship with Uriah to really care about her.
    • Zeke, Uriah’s brother and Four’s best friend, doesn’t appear at all, either, which will also effect Allegiant quite strongly.
    • Lynn is unnamed in the film and appears to be alive at the end when, in fact, she is shot and killed at the end of the book during the aftermath of the Dauntless invasion. With her final words, she also reveals that she loved Marlene, which is also ignored. This is the second homosexual relationship (sort of!) in Roth’s trilogy, with the second being announced in Allegiant, so I wonder if they conveniently forget to mention that one, as well.
    • Shauna, Lynn’s sister, is also missed out. Shauna listens in on Max and Jack’s meeting with Tris and Lynn and is consequently shot in the back and paralysed. We see her again in Allegiant, too, so this again has a much bigger effect.
    • Cara is also completely missed out and doesn’t appear to be on the casting list for Allegiant, either, even though she is the leader of the Allegiant. Cara is supposed to help Tris and Marcus reveal the message in The Box at the end of Insurgent, and should also be imprisoned with them at the beginning of Allegiant.
    • Johanna, the leader of Amity, only has a small role in this film, too. We don’t get to see her have a secret meeting with Marcus that Tris listens in on, which will again effect Allegiant when Johanna and Marcus attempt to work together.
  • And the final big(ish) change in the film is the heated sex scene between Tris and Four. Although I quite liked the inclusion of this made-up scene, it’s not until Allegiant that Tris finally takes control and allows Four to take her virginity. It’s quite a big deal in the book, as Tris is constantly telling Four and herself that she’s not ready, which is great for its young adult premise, so for Insurgent to take this away from the story is a little disappointing, taking away all of the meaning behind it.
  • The film then ends, yet again, completely different from the book. The book ends with everyone watching the video and getting a little hesitant, whereas the film ends with literally everyone in Chicago watching the video and running towards the walls. This will again hugely effect Allegiant from the very beginning, since the first 8 or so chapters of the book are all about Evelyn preventing anyone from leaving the city.

Overall Verdict:

This second instalment doesn’t feel as original or adventurous as the first, but there’s still a lot of decent action to keep you entertained. The book may not be overly exciting, but this film adaptation picks up on its flaws, even if it does completely change the context of the instalment in the rest of the trilogy. Changes aside, the film is enjoyable to watch, but it all seems to be going downhill quite quickly.

About Charlie Morris

Proofreader and film blogger living in Cornwall.

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