BOOK TO FILM: Insurgent

This book to film comparison contains spoilers.

insurgentBeatrice Prior must confront her inner demons and continue her fight against a powerful alliance which threatens to tear her society apart with the help from others on her side.

From the first teaser trailer, I knew that the Insurgent film was going to be making some pretty big changes. But that excited me because I loved the Divergent movie and all the changes it made to the book’s plot.

Also, I assumed that the changes would carry over into the two scheduled Allegiant movies, possibly impacting and padding out a plot that has underwhelmed many fans. Despite the many changes made, though, the end point of the Insurgent film is fairly similar to the book. I’m left wondering what (if anything) will warrant splitting the slow-moving third book into two movies.


The world

One of the things that bothered me while watching Insurgent was the amount of obvious CGI. I’m not talking about random flying buildings or evaporating people: the setting, for the most part, just looked flat compared to Divergent.

Give me more of this crumbling infrastructure. This looks possible.

Having visited Chicago for the first time last October, I expected to be more enthralled than ever by the setting. Instead, many of the crumbling yet familiar buildings from the first movie have disappeared. The beautiful Joe and Rika Mansueto Library, for example, (Erudite headquarters in Divergent) has been replaced with a sparkling skyscraper that looks completely out of place in the dystopian society.

I assume that the changes in scenery and world-building are due to the change in directors. I also assume that I’m going to have to get used to it because it looks like Robert Schwentke is returning for at least the first Allegiant movie. Hopefully he’ll rein in his enthusiastic reliance on CGI and instead allow the city of Chicago and all its fascinating architecture to shine through on screen.



In the book, everyone knows that Jeanine was behind the simulation and attack on Abnegation. As a result, the other factions must choose their alliances based on simple survival instinct.

You can’t prove anything. My bandaged hand means nothing.

The movie takes an interesting path, with Jeanine issuing propaganda that denies her involvement altogether. I think this is a fascinating change, as the factions’ situation is no longer black and white.

Though existing in a state of uncertainty, Amity and Candor are still under the illusion that they have a say in how things will turn out, rather than being forced into compliance.


Get outta here before I give you some of my peace serum.

Get outta here before I give you some of my peace serum.

Unfortunately, despite this change, we see so little of each faction on screen that their rituals feel one-dimensional and, at times, even comical. There is no exploration of the darker side of Amity, or the lighter side of Erudite, or the complexity of Candor. One of the most interesting things about the Insurgent book is learning that, like Dauntless, every faction has its secrets and agendas and its members are not simply an embodiment of their faction’s name.

I can't look at this without singing Rent in my head.

I can’t look at this without singing Rent in my head.

Despite basically being the homeless population, the Factionless are all looking pretty well-fed, clean, and fashionable. I was looking forward to seeing how comfortable the characters (especially Tobias) could be living in this kind of poverty but it really didn’t look that bad. Evelyn, for example, looks neither starved nor impoverished with her bitchin’ eye makeup, hairstyling, and accessories.

Oh, and there’s that whole thing where she’s just able to supply a sit-down meal for her guests with food that doesn’t come out of cans. I could kind of sympathise with Book Evelyn when she was down to overthrow the faction system after starving for years but I won’t be able to justify her actions to myself when she looks so perfectly coiffed all the time.

Just hangin' out, looking fierce.

Just hangin’ out, looking fierce.

Peter has definitely acquired more screen time and Miles Teller flourishes in the role. Though Rosa Salazar and Keiynan Lonsdale seem to be bursting with potential as Lynn and Uriah, the character of Marlene fades into the background. Her death is virtually meaningless to the audience when the movie turns her into a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ cameo.

Hopefully we’ll get to see more of Lynn in Allegiant, since she manages to survive this movie.


The Eatons

The book sees Tobias struggling to deal with his complicated relationships with both his parents. His situation is incredibly complex and, from Tris’s point of view, we can see the subtle ways in which his mother is manipulating him. Tobias seems to teeter between trying to prove he doesn’t care and allowing himself to want and need his mother’s approval.

In the movie, Tobias never seems interested in winning his mother’s approval or doing anything she suggests, really. He initiates an alliance with the Factionless out of sheer necessity, not for a future that he’s beginning to see as viable.

Does a necklace made of garbage make you Factionless or an extreme hipster?

Does a necklace made of garbage make you Factionless or an extreme hipster?

Also, what is up with Naomi Watts as Evelyn? Apart from the fact that she’s super white (which Evelyn is not), she looks like she could be Tobias’s love interest, not his mother. It actually becomes uncomfortable when Evelyn tries to excuse her behaviour by saying she was very young when she left her family. The incongruity between the apparent ages of her and Tobias makes ‘very young’ seem indicative of ‘child bride’.

I'm too busy brooding to play my part.

I’m too busy brooding to play my part.

Considering the major role he plays in the book, I find it strange that Marcus just trots off into the sunset and everything just rolls along without him. Perhaps the conflict between Marcus and Tobias has been shifted back to Allegiant and Marcus will crop back up later.

Before I drop this whole Tobias subject, I’m just going to say that the weirdness surrounding Tobias’s name really bugs me. I could understand why Tris continued to refer to him as Four in Divergent because his name was revealed fairly late in the movie and it could have been confusing for audiences. But she continues to refer to him as Four in this movie, negating the intimacy of knowing his real name and being able to use it freely. It just bugs me, guys. But I guess we’re halfway through the film franchise now so we’re probably going to be calling him Four until the very end.


The box

Here we go. Probably the biggest change made to the plot, which seems to have entertained and angered audiences equally. So let’s split this into pros and cons.


Logistically, it makes sense to have some way to prove that Divergents are strong enough to warrant viewing the message. It also basically proves that Tris is worthy of all our attention because she doesn’t have a one-dimensional personality. What a relief.

This place is not as cool as it looks, tbh.

This place is not as cool as it looks, tbh.

Tris doesn’t have to stay at Erudite for ages and get repeatedly tortured. As far as I can tell, she’s there for two days so that speeds things up and there’s no time for her to be defeated by ill treatment.


If the machine is designed to test the strength of Divergents, why is it also capable of killing them?

There's a flaw in your method, people.

There’s a flaw in your method, people.

Divergence seems to be, in many cases, a hereditary trait. If you want strong Divergents then why are you going to kill the people who might pass on and improve the gene? That is incredibly counterproductive, guys. Come on.

Someone else can clean this up. I'm too busy looking awesome.

Someone else can clean this up. I’m too busy looking awesome.

Tris doesn’t get to learn anything about her biology or what makes her tick. She still doesn’t really understand what being Divergent means and for a while longer everyone can believe that it’s some kind of weird superpower. (Although I guess the big reveal will probably come in Allegiant. Maybe this is kind of a pro because the truth was as disheartening to readers as it was to Tris.)

The message contained in the box isn’t as shocking as its book counterpart. There are no pictures of war or famine or anything else to depict the true state of the outside world. And, while the lady delivering the message seems competent enough, she never indicates that she is about to erase her own memory to become part of the society so there’s still no proper explanation of how people came to be in Chicago. By the end of the movie, without this information about the outside world, everyone seems to be just fine and dandy with swarming out of the city to have a look around.



One of the most moving scenes in the book was when Christina eventually forgave Tris for killing Will. It was a bright point in Tris’s storyline, and the resurgence of their friendship is so important to Tris coming to terms with her actions.

Thanks for not letting me die. Let's be besties again.

Thanks for not letting me die. Let’s be besties again.

I’m really disappointed that Christina’s emotions about Will’s death aren’t properly explored in the movie. Instead of seeing it for herself, Christina is once again under a simulation. She never sees how those under the simulation can’t be reasoned with, and can hardly be swayed from their programming.

Though Christina does seem to forgive Tris and voices a desire to protect her from Erudite, she plays a very small part in the movie. I understand that the love story angle is being pushed but I feel Tris needs more to hang on to than just her relationship with Tobias.



Tris’s mental state in the book can probably only be described as fragile. She’s been shot in the shoulder, has lost both her parents, killed her friend (and, in doing so, damaged another friendship), and seems to be suffering from acute post-traumatic stress disorder. She can barely look at a gun, let alone use one, without experiencing flashbacks and panic attacks. Her constant recklessness with her life is a source of tension between her and Tobias. As debilitating as all that is, it does make Tris seem much more real.

Gonna shoot my trauma in the face.

Gonna shoot my trauma in the face.

Movie Tris was never that bothered by her bullet wound in Divergent and by the time Insurgent picks up it seems to have disappeared completely. She has no problem handling a gun or using it on enemies when her life is in danger. She’s nowhere near as reckless with her life, and her quest for the truth doesn’t require her teaming up with Marcus so her relationship with Tobias is in no danger.

Excuse you. I'm trying to make choices here.

Excuse you. I’m trying to make choices here.

While Book Tris has an aptitude for three factions, which should make her 60 per cent Divergent, Movie Tris is 100 per cent Divergent. There’s a whole suicide simulation calling her out for being so special. With this in mind, turning herself over to Erudite is not a reckless or stupid decision in the movie; she really has no choice if she wants the suicides to stop. Considering how switched-on Tris is in the Insurgent movie, it will be extremely hard to justify Tobias’s distrust of her opinions in Allegiant.



The verdict

The changes made to Insurgent provide an interesting change to the book’s dynamics, employing more action and less focus on the introspective. Ultimately, however, the movie ends with most characters in the same position as the book: Jeanine’s dead, we know there’s something going on outside the gate but we don’t know what.

So far, I can only see a few big things that will be carried over into Allegiant if they make the cut at all: Tobias and Marcus’s fight/Tobias asserting himself as a Dauntless leader, the Factionless overthrowing the faction system, and everyone gaining a scientific understanding of what it means to be Divergent. I’m interested to see how enough content will be drummed up to stretch Allegiant over two films. Surely there will be more twists and changes in the future movies to extend the plot.

Overall, Insurgent is not the most faithful book to film adaptation and I certainly didn’t enjoy it as much as the Divergent movie. While I believe the altered plot of Insurgent flows more smoothly on screen, the overreliance on CGI was at times jarring to watch and the story lacks some of the driving emotion contained in the book.


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