The Divergent Series: Insurgent

A stupid film with smart ideas

The Divergent series began with last year’s Divergent, a film based on the first novel of a poorly written dystopian trilogy aimed at teenagers and young adults. The series was made to cash in on the phenomenal box office success of The Hunger Games. Both series are made by Lionsgate, a major non-Hollywood studio, which gives them a distinct non-Hollywood flavor, though obviously does not guarantee the avoidance of typical Hollywood flaws.

Insurgent also suggests that nonconformity and challenging the status quo are positive attributes and should be encouraged among the young.

The Divergent series is set in a future version of Chicago, which is surrounded by a wall beyond which lies nothing but wasteland (as far as the city’s inhabitants know). Two hundred years before, the city’s founders created a society whose people were divided into five factions in an attempt to bring peace to a world devastated by war. The five factions include: Amity (pacifist farmers who are always happy and carefree), Candor (people who value honesty above all), Abnegation (selfless people who look after the poor and marginalized in the city, and include the city’s leaders), Dauntless (fearless people who are the city’s trained security personnel), and Erudite (intelligent people responsible for thinking long term and maintaining the vision of a peaceful society).

Based on test results, and the faction in which they grew up, teenagers must choose which faction they will call home for the rest of their lives. Those who are unable to complete the strenuous induction processes, or who otherwise don’t fit into their chosen faction, get kicked out and join the large population of factionless people, the marginalized poor who require the constant support of Abnegation.

In Divergent, we are introduced to Tris (played by Shailene Woodley), who grew up in Abnegation but whose test results are inconclusive, making her  a Divergent. Tris is warned to keep this result a secret, and chooses to join the Dauntless faction, though she soon discovers she doesn’t really fit in there. [Spoiler alert] Tris avoids becoming factionless with the help of one of the Dauntless trainers (Theo James), a young man who calls himself Four. Tris and Four get involved in trying to stop an Erudite scheme to take over control of the city by killing off the members of Abnegation, which is how the first film ends.

Insurgent begins with a public announcement that Divergents are responsible for the attempt to wipe out Abnegation. Jeanine (Kate Winslet), the leader of Erudite, believes that Divergents are inherently dangerous to society because they resist conformity, and she would like to eliminate all Divergents. Until, that is, her soldiers find a small box, containing a message left behind by the founders, which can only be opened by someone who can pass simulations from all five factions (a Divergent).

That’s enough of the plot. Divergent (the first film) was a simplistic, underdeveloped film featuring mediocre acting (except by Woodley), wooden characters, and too much redemptive violence. But it also had thought-provoking ideas, and I was captivated by the second half of the film. Alas, Insurgent is a dumbed-down sequel, with more violence and even less-developed characters and plot (Naomi Watts is largely wasted as Four’s mother). It also features one of the stupidest and ugliest scenes I have seen in a long time (on a train, early in the film). The plot of Insurgent is full of senseless acts and random violence, though once again the last half of the film is more entertaining and thought-provoking, if generally predictable.

Among the illogical actions in Insurgent are Jeanine’s attempts to maintain peace through the slaughter of innocents. The film does not, of course, champion these actions. Indeed, it champions divergence and suggests that the way to a peaceful society is through people who incorporate all five factions, not one to the exclusion of others. Insurgent also suggests that nonconformity and challenging the status quo are positive attributes and should be encouraged among the young. There are some interesting ideas here that are worth discussing with younger viewers. It’s too bad the film containing those ideas is so poorly made (though Woodley’s acting is stellar throughout both films, James is better in the second film, and the cinematography is quite good). Let’s hope the last two films of the series are better (I won’t be holding my breath).


Insurgent is rated PG-13 for intense violence and action throughout, some sensuality, thematic elements, and brief language.