The film “Insurgent” is based on the second book in “The Divergent Series” trilogy written by Veronica Roth. The film, directed by Robert Schwentke, is about a girl named Tris (Shailene Woodley), who is identified as a “divergent” in the first film. Tris is divergent because her outcome for her aptitude test was inconclusive. That is, she showed characteristics from each faction, making her unplaceable and a threat to the order and government of the faction system. After the first film, Tris along with love interest and fellow divergent Four (Theo James), and her brother Caleb are forced into hiding. The film focuses on their struggle to stay alive whilst also trying to ultimately take down the faction system. The film “Insurgent” bends gender binaries, but does so in a very safe and limited way, still clinging to a mainstream ideal of gender roles, beauty, race, and sexuality.
The film represents gender in non-traditional ways, but it is done very safely. The film bends gender binaries with the fact that Tris is physically strong, good in combat, and therefore capable of killing- traits not traditionally associated with females. On the other hand, her brother Caleb is portrayed as a coward that is even incapable of saving his sister from harm. The safe part about this is that Tris is still particularly attractive and fit, along with her love interest Four, who plays the perfect man. Four is portrayed to be (heterosexual), strong, courageous, loving, sexy, and dangerous. He is a leader in the first film and acts as Tris’s mentor, but in this film he does take a step back as Tris becomes the main leader.
The film does a good job of placing women in leading roles, but it seems to do only that. Tris is pretty much the only female character/leader in the film that is shown as developing and dynamic. While the other female characters (Jeanine, Johanna, Evelyn, and Christine) could be replaced by males and I doubt it would make much difference to the overall plot of the film. Jeanine is shown as being ruthless, determined, and willing to die for what she believes in. She is the leader of the Erudite faction, and tries to test/capture/use/kill Tris and Four throughout the first and second films. This seems to be only a mere reversal of traditional female/male gender roles and expectations, versus actually radically changing gender expectations altogether. Evelyn is shown in a similar light. Being the leader of the Factionless, she is also particularly motivated and ruthless. She is also Four’s mother, which makes the dynamics interesting, but does not offer much to the plot or to feminism for that matter. Either way, she is still motivated to attack Erudite and kill Jeanine with her Factionless army. Johanna, being the only woman of color filling a leadership role, is still depicted in a manner that is stereotypical of black women. From Hollinger, “…when women of color have been portrayed it has always been in stereotypical images that reduce them to their biological functions or present them only as surrogates for White women” (Hollinger, 195). The stereotype that Johanna portrays is that of the woman of color being simple and close to nature. Her clothes are simple Earth-colored. She values peace above all else, and will not stand for violence in any form. While this stereotype is not necessarily or explicitly negative, it is a limited portrayal of what a woman of color in power can stand for.
Sexuality in the film is largely ignored, except for when Tris and Four get close a few times. Tris and Four are clearly a display of normative heterosexuality and love. There is no mention or display of any alternative or queer sexuality. It is understood that the film is rated PG-13 and therefore has a specific audience and restrictions on the content that it can include, but that does not mean the film and its producers and directors automatically get a free pass. One of the shown fears of Tris in both films is forced intimacy with Four. Aligning one of Tris’s greatest fears with forced intimacy plays into rape culture. The dominant reading of this fear would rationalize it as being a fear almost every woman has or should have. “The ‘gaze’ has been and is a site of resistance… Subordinates in relations of power learn experientially that there is a critical gaze, one that ‘looks’ to document, one that is oppositional” (hooks,116). When applying hooks’ theory of the oppositional gaze, it’s obvious why we are shown this fear. In documenting and critically examining the display of this particular fear its clear that we are to identify with it- versus say showing us one of Tris’s fantasies perhaps consisting of tying up and spanking Four. The portrayal of sexuality offered (when it is portrayed at all) in “Insurgent” is incredibly normative and non transgressive.
Four and Tris
This is about as graphic as it gets…
The Public Cinema Experience:
The actual theater was very cozy. I went to a particular theater that has faux leather lounger seats that can automatically recline/sit up at the touch of a button. The seats are in sets of two, sharing the middle armrest. Many people brought blankets and pillows with them. During the 20 minutes of previews, most people were quietly chatting and/or looking at their phones. Once the film actually started, everyone went quiet and pretty much stayed quiet throughout the entirety of the film. Most people were around my age (early 20s) give or take five years.
The space itself was very pleasant. With the lounger seats, it was extremely comfortable. The theater is located in Rosemount, MN, a southern suburb of the Twin Cities. The theater and its facilities as a whole were clean and inviting. I believe it is wheelchair accessible, and each theater has spots reserved for people that use wheelchairs and/or other different methods of mobility. Most of the people at the theater and inside the particular screening room were white (that I could tell). The film was shown in English with no subtitles/translations for other modes or languages for communicating.
Luckily, this time around my partner and I had two free passes good for the price of one ticket. So we got to see the film for free. But I believe the price of one ticket is around $8.50 on most nights/weekends after 4pm for any film. We did not purchase any snacks or beverages. I had just gotten my wisdom teeth out the day before, so we got icecream before we went to the theater. The snacks are pretty spend though compared to the pricing of the same items at other places such as gas stations, drug stores, etc. There is also an incentive to buy the large size of popcorn and pop, since you get free refills on both (as if you’ll need any)!
The Collective Film Watching Experience:
I have always enjoyed the collective film watching experience. I often feel that me and my fellow viewers/watchers in the theater are united at least under one context: that we are there to see that particular film. It was especially exciting to see “Insurgent” at the theater because the Divergent Series has a lot of devoted fans. Everyone seemed to be excited to see the second movie, and it can be assumed that most had probably seen and enjoyed the first one. Most people laughed/gasped/jumped at appropriate and expected parts of the film. I probably was more excited to see the film in the theater with my partner than if I would have been at home watching it alone. I like going out and getting popcorn and seeing people versus sitting on my couch at home in my pajamas when seeing a film that I have waited to see with anticipation.
The theater and collective film watching experience was great! The economics of the experience were great, and I enjoyed the film overall. Thinking of the film with a critical feminist lens though, the film left much to be desired. I see it as a small step in the right direction in terms of leading female roles, but we need more!