Fighting to Return to Humanity: A Feminist Analysis of ‘Insurgent’

Movie Review Blog

Insurgent, the second film in the Divergent series, directed by Robert Schwentke and based off of Veronica Roth’s hit novel series, looks like any stellar action film.  Just look at the movie poster:


Broken glass, guns, cool stunts, it’s got all of the qualities that make up an exciting action-packed film.  It starts with Eric and his army of “bad guys” finding a mysterious box while Tris, Caleb, Four, and Peter are getting into trouble while in hiding with the peaceful Amity.  Peter betrays their hiding spot and Tris, Caleb and Four flee.  They are attacked by the Factionless, and brought to their territory where Four is unwillingly reunited with his mother.  Caleb deserts Tris and Four on their journey to Candor to find the rest of the Dauntless, and Tris and Four are arrested upon arriving at Candor territory.  After demonstrating their innocence Eric shows up again and a fight ensues.  Eric discovers that Tris is 100% Divergent, making her a “perfect” candidate to open the mysterious box right before he’s shot in the head, execution style, by Four (he’s gotta protect his lady evidently).  In an attempt to obtain Tris to open the box Jeanine starts killing members of Dauntless.  This compels Tris to turn herself in.  Four gets himself captured while attempting to save her, and Tris “dies” trying to open the box.  Peter reveals that he’s back on their side and the now alive Tris, Four and Peter wreak havoc in Jeanine’s lab before Tris opens the box to reveal that there is a world beyond the walls they live behind.  The film ends with all the factions heading for the wall to discover the world that lies beyond.

Insurgent (and the Divergent series in general) have been praised highly due to their inclusion of a female as the main protagonist.  Times are changing, women can kick butt too!  However, I wouldn’t say that Insurgent is really a feminist film…while Tris is female, the protagonist, and pretty badass, she still gets a lot of help from the strong male characters in the film (namely Four).  Yep, there still has to be that love interest going on, Tris can’t just kick butt on her own, she has to also fall in love with Four and battle alongside him for truth, justice and love.  Four is constantly trying to protect her throughout the film: saving her life on the train out of Amity when they’re attacked by Factionless, killing Eric before Eric kills Tris, preventing her from being turned in by the other Dauntless when Jeanine starts killing them, getting captured trying to rescue Tris from Erudite (even though she turned herself in), holding back the Erudite soldiers while Tris opens the box, the list goes on and on…  Even though I can look back and be upset about Four constantly trying to save Tris (even when she was doing just fine on her own) I still found myself finding pleasure in his gallant attempts to rescue her, in the film it just seemed like he really loved her, and I bought right into that image, “…female readers/spectators continue to find genuine pleasure in cultural forms that put women back into their traditional place.” (McCabe, 41).  In my opinion, Four is essentially the only thing really keeping Insurgent from being a powerful feminist film (albeit one that promotes ableism).  Tris has all the trappings of a complex, powerful woman: she experiences a variety of emotions, repeatedly defends herself and those she loves, thinks for herself, takes on leadership roles, and strives to do what is right even if it compromises her own safety.  If you replaced Tris with a man Insurgent wouldn’t be all that different from every other action movie featuring a strong male lead (besides the fact that I’ve never seen an action movie where the man is constantly rescued by a dashing female).  Tris is powerful in this film, and, more than that, she is strong enough to forgive those who wrong her throughout the film.  Even though Jeanine was largely responsible for the death of her parents Tris still refuses to kill her once she has the opportunity (although before she has the opportunity she’s hell bent on killing Jeanine).

It isn’t that Tris necessarily needs Four’s help throughout the film, it’s just that he’s way too eager to provide it.  Even when Peter is just teasing Tris for cutting her hair Four still feels the need to launch into macho man mode to “defend” Tris.

Clearly, Tris is struggling with some complex emotions, but even so you can see her strength reflected in her eyes, she doesn’t need Four’s help to “protect” her from Peter’s playful teasing.

Just by looking at her you can tell that Tris is one powerful woman.  She has that look that implies she won’t take shit from anyone, especially not Jeanine and her cronies.  Her look is full of power throughout the film, and exemplifies the point that, “The ‘gaze’ has been and is a site of resistance…” (hooks, 116).  And boy can Tris employ this gaze.

Shailene-Woodley-as-Tris-Prior-in-Divergent-InsurgentDivergent Series: Insurgent Trailer (Screengrab)insurgent-trailer-860x442insurgent-scene

Tris uses this look as an act of defiance against Jeanine and the government that she represents.

It’s this powerful look that Tris has that makes it all the more upsetting that Four is constantly playing the knight in shining armor to save her.  Even when Tris is trying to do the right thing by turning herself in so no one else is killed Four still tries to save her from her own decision by ridiculously claiming that he will somehow protect her because she’s important to him.  Tris is struggling with extreme feelings of guilt, and rather than recognize that and actually try to help, Four instead selfishly makes her feel even more guilty for thinking about leaving him.

Even though Tris knows that turning herself in is the right thing to do (and ends out being best for everyone, including herself) Four still tries to stop her.  He’s holding her back instead of actually helping her while trying to prevent her from doing the things that actually end up saving the day for everyone.

Overall though, my movie watching experience was pleasant, I went back to my hometown of Elk River, a strictly white, middle class town with my partner and we went to Marcus Theatre.  Marcus is a massive theatre company with plush seating, snazzy red carpet, and a whopping 17 theaters.  You pay for that though, with matinee tickets costing $5, and popcorn and drinks costing you about $20 for two people.  It’s hard to resist the concessions though when the stand is directly past the ticket counter and you’re assaulted with the tantalizing scent of fresh popcorn.  Even though the theater was large there were only a couple dozen people in the theater with us, although by the time we watched it Insurgent had already been in theaters for awhile.

There were a few moments that inspired laughter among the audience.  First, when Peter enters the room where Tris is being held to open the box and Tris overpowers him.  She threatens to kill Peter unless Jeanine lets her go, and Jeanine responds with, “That’s okay.  You can kill him. We have plenty of others.”  Next, the audience laughed when Tris woke up after being wheeled out of the lab because she was suspected to be dead, and Peter knocked out all of the guards with Four.  Peter is appalled when Tris says she wants to go back in the lab to get the box, and Four tells Peter that he’s picked their side now, so if he wants to survive he needs to make sure they survive.  Peter responds with, “Fuck.”

I think if I had viewed this film in my own home that I might have been more critical of it in the moment, but since I was surrounded by other people I tended to respond to the film in a similar way as they did.

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