Defying the Norms in Insurgent

Movie Review Blog

For this assignment, I chose to review The Divergent Series: Insurgent film that was released in theatres on March 20thInsurgent is a science fiction adventure film directed by Robert Schwentke based on the novel, Insurgent, which is the second book of the Divergent trilogy.  I chose this film because I was a huge fan of the first movie of the series, Divergent.  I was particularly intrigued by its unique storyline and by the main character, Tris Prior, played by Shailene Woodley.

The Divergent Series takes place in a futuristic dystopian city where the civilians are divided into factions based off of their abilities and where they feel they will be able to contribute most to society – Abnegation (the selfless), Amity (the peaceful), Candor (the honest), Dauntless (the brave), and Erudite (the intelligent).  Although she joins Dauntless, Tris comes to find in the first film that she is divergent, which means that she belongs to more than one faction, making her a major threat to society.

Insurgent follows Tris who is on the run with her boyfriend, Four (who is also divergent), from Jeanine, the leader of Erudite, who is trying to capture her because of her divergence.  Ultimately, Jeanine wants Tris captured because she is dangerous to society, however, as the film concludes they all realize the divergent are not a threat to society, rather they are vital to their existence.  This film is action-packed, adventurous, and thrilling – just as the genre suggests.  Insurgent defies the norms of gender, ability, and racial representations in film as it presents its female characters as dominant and people of color of equal significance and allows for identification with a female character.


This film represents gender in interesting and unique ways.   The most prominent representation of gender is through the main character of the film, Tris, who is a female.  Tris’s character is very different from most female characters in film and not only because the film focuses around her, which is indeed rare.  Tris chooses to align herself with the Dauntless faction which is dedicated to bravery, courage, toughness, and fearlessness.  Tris doesn’t just fit in to this group she excels in it – becoming one of the best in the faction.  Most would probably think that women belong with the selfless or the peaceful, but this film represents women as having equal strength and bravery to men, end even above men, like in Tris’s case.  Dauntless, as well as the rest of the factions, are basically equally represented by men and women.  This also shows how ability is represented in Insurgent.  Men and women have the same rights to be in whatever faction they choose and ability to perform equally well in any faction.

In Hunger Games: Catching Fire: A Small Victory for Feminist Cinema, Boykin questions why it matters whether the hero is male or female.  Boykin says, “It matters because the conventions of cinema include identification (or dis-identification) of spectator and character on film.  If women characters are frequently cast as the “damsels in distress,” and this is the identification that is actively cultivated by the film, then a kind of conditioning is created that may discourage women from reaching their potential as fully active and fully human subjects” (Boykin).  Tris, much like Katniss in The Hunger Games, is an example of a female hero that women can identify with and believe in, drawing them away from the gender norms we have so long been exposed to.


The film represents gender in numerous ways, but the last example I will mention is that the leader of Erudite, Jeanine, is a woman.  Erudite is arguably the most important faction and is dedicated to knowledge and intelligence.  Jeanine is the first face that you see in the film and is portrayed as one of the most powerful people in the film.  It is extremely rare to see a woman in this role.


Race is another aspect of the film that is worth mentioning because it was represented differently than I usually see in films.  Although the majority of the characters were white, there was a large number of people of color.  Race was not an important factor when it came to accepting people into the different factions, in fact, one of the leaders of the faction, Abnegation, was an African American woman.


To analyze the aspects above, I focused mainly on identification while also considering spectatorship.  The concept of identification was of utmost importance while analyzing this film because I identified with Tris more than any other character, and I believe this was the director’s intention.  Tris is seen on film more than any other character, and we (as viewers) are forced to see from her perspective.  She is not the narrator, nor is the film shot from her physical point-of-view, but it is through the intense story line that follows her from start to finish that allowed me to attach myself to her and her feelings.  At one point in the film, Tris was put through agonizing torture and I could literally feel myself getting upset with person who was controlling it.  She was hunted, chased, shot at, and bound, and I was scared for her, and overjoyed when they discovered how important her abilities are.  Tris was not the villain, she was the victim and I identified with her being wrongly blamed and punished for something that she could not control.  Many cinematic aspects contribute to the identification with Tris such as the shot composition which puts her as the focus/center of several shots in the film as well as having her look directly into the camera numerous times.  Also the lighting which beams directly at her in many instances while shadowing others.



This leads me to the concept of spectatorship.  In Feminist Film Studies: Writing the Woman into Cinema, Janet McCabe explains “that access to pleasure and desire for the female spectator is only made possible through masculine identification” (McCabe 34).  The concept of the female spectator has been discussed by numerous scholars, but it seems that many of them come back to a similar conclusion.  Insurgent shows this is not always the case because I, as a female spectator, was able to successfully identify with Tris throughout the entire film.

I saw this film at the Lakeville 21 Muller Family Theatre and paid $9.50 my ticket.  The building was decent – it is an old theatre so it isn’t the nicest theatre that I’ve been to, but they did have a great snack and movie selection to choose from.  The theatre wasn’t particularly busy, but it seemed steady.  The theatre is right off of I-35 in Lakeville, so it could easily draw attention and customers from the traffic on the freeway.

The audience consisted mainly of adults and teenagers and they were somewhat interactive with the film.  I went to see the film four weeks after it was released, so the audience may not have been as interested or engaged as those that saw it right when it came out.  However, the audience did impact my experience some.  The audience interacted with the film by making verbal expressions during various parts.  To my surprise, the most common reaction to what was happening in the film was laughter.  Although this was not a comedy film, the comedic aspects clearly triggered the greatest response from the audience.  It was interesting to see a movie and have to pay attention to the audience while also paying attention to the film.  It definitely made me notice certain elements of the film that I may not have noticed otherwise, like the funny/sarcastic comments made by the characters, but unfortunately, nothing that was incredibly note-worthy for this assignment.

I do, however, think that the collective film watching experience effected how I responded and paid attention to the film.  I went to see the movie with my boyfriend, who was also a fan of the first film.  We watched the first movie of the series together on my laptop a few months ago, and I can definitely say that this experience was different from seeing Insurgent in theatres.  Watching the film in theatres definitely forced me to pay more attention, mostly because I was not allowed to talk or use my cell phone.  When I watched the first film with my boyfriend on my lap top, I was distracted by my phone and by side conversations we were having.  Although I enjoy just relaxing and watching a good movie on my computer in the comfort of my own home, I don’t get the same enjoyment and appreciation out of the actual film as I do in theatres.

Tris is an excellent example of a female hero that challenges the stereotypical roles of women in film.   She shows us that women have the ability to do everything that men can do and that being a hero is internal, rather than based off of external appearance.

By Brooke Niesen


Boykin, Eboni. “Hunger Games: Catching Fire: A Small Victory for Feminist Cinema.”Columbia University. 26 Nov. 2013. Web. 12 Apr. 2015. <;.

McCabe, Janet. “Structuring a Language of Theory.” Feminist Film Studies: Writing the Woman into Cinema. London: Wallflower, 2004. Print.

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