Veronica Roth on the Box and the Other Changes to Insurgent

Insurgent Photo: Andrew Cooper/Lionsgate

Author Veronica Roth had the same reaction a lot of the fans of her books did when first seeing the second film adaptation of her Divergent book series, Insurgent, which was a little shock at the box. (“It was a little jarring,” she admits.) An invention of the filmmakers to help drive the plot along, the message-in-a-box can only be unlocked by someone who can pass the simulation tests of all five factions, someone who is 100 percent Divergent. Book Tris would fail this test and die. But movie Tris manages this, albeit with some nasty nosebleeds. Are these changes controversial? Sure. Are they necessary? Roth thinks so, for the most part. Here she discusses her reactions to some of the major changes in Insurgent, as well as how fans want another big change in AllegiantNeed we say that spoilers are ahead (including Allegiant stuff)?

Just to get it out of the way, let’s talk hair. You just went platinum blonde, and Tris goes through her own radical hair change — accompanied by the screaming of crows, for dramatic effect.
[Laughs.] I did this a couple months ago. And also, now I can hide things in here, like pens. I haven’t, but I could. Tris cuts her own hair, as a sign of grief. A lot of women do that. So the reason Tris gets a haircut is the same reason I’ve gotten a haircut, which is when you feel like something inside you has changed dramatically, you want the outside to reflect that change. Obviously her reasons for doing it are a lot more intense than my reasons! And the scissors she uses are a lot more intense. You could hurt yourself, man!

You already wrote a Tumblr post about this, anticipating that it would be controversial, but there are a lot of changes from the books this time around. Not just the ending …
The ending. [Laughs.] Really?

In terms of what happens. Instead of the shouting, they’re all peaceful and leave the city.
Um, yeah. I guess. I don’t know if they’re necessarily leaving the city. Tris certainly hasn’t left yet, so that part of the story hasn’t happened. I’m just speculating, I don’t really know what they’re going to do yet, but I think they’ll still have to deal with that. Because there’s a lot going in that early part, before they leave the city and figure out what’s out there. I think Tris will still have to go through all the conflicts that are happening inside the city, in the wake of Evelyn taking over. But I think it makes a lot of sense [to have a different ending in the film] because in the book, we’re kind of seeing it with Tris, so we don’t see everyone’s reaction. We only see the people in that room with her. But when you’re showing a bigger world, you can show that the people closer to the fence are straight-up running to it, and that makes sense to me, because that’s the first thing I would do: “Okay! Let’s go see what’s out there.”

What do you think about the box?
The box. Yes. That was the biggest change, I think. So, just to back up a little bit, when I first learned that Insurgent was green-lit and that they were going to make it, it occurred to me that they were going to have to change a lot about it. The plot of Insurgent, more than the other books, is complicated. There are a lot of people with a lot of conflicting desires. There’s a lot going on. So I figured they would have to streamline it and simplify it. I didn’t know exactly how they would do that, but the box is the way they decided to. So the good thing about it is that it gives Jeanine a lot of motivation for targeting Tris specifically, and for targeting Divergents generally. We get to know her reasons for doing that in the book, but those would be hard to make it onscreen. This gives us a visual way of understanding her motivation.

And it puts all the simulations in Insurgent in one place, because Tris has some simulations when she’s trapped in Erudite, and she kind of goes under one when she breaks into Jeanine’s office. So the box puts all these things in one place, and I thought it was a good solution to the problems the plot presents, as far as the movie adaptation goes. And that’s why it didn’t bother me as much as maybe I would have thought it would. Anytime you see big changes, you’re like, “Whoa … What did I do wrong?” [Laughs.] But mostly I feel like if it works in the movie, then it makes the movie stronger, and we can focus more on the characters as a result. That’s important.

What about Tris becoming 100 percent Divergent instead of belonging to three factions? Why wasn’t she all five factions in the books?
Oh, that? I have reasons for that.

Such as?
Well, the reason she’s not all five [factions] is just because she’s not superhuman. She’s got flaws, and those need to be reflected in the way that she’s appealing to the factions.

One of those flaws is her tendency toward self-destruction. We get a little less of that in this version. We also get a little less of the conflict Four has, with having to decide whether to trust or have an alliance with a parent who has abused or abandoned him.
It’s maybe a more condensed version of what he’s enduring in the books. He had a black-and-white view of both of his parents, and throughout the course of the series, he starts to see them not as redeemed for what they’ve done, but as complex individuals. And that’s true of all children when you grow up. Even if you have a bad relationship with a parent, they’re not like mustache-twirling villains or horrible devil creatures. They’re real people who might have done terrible things. It doesn’t mean you have to forgive them, but it does mean you have to deal with the truth of what they are. His relationship with his parents in the movie has been a little more difficult to navigate, simply because he’s so much older. When you’re 18 dealing with these things, it’s a lot different than when you’re in your 20s. I hope they’re able to get into it a bit more in Allegiant.

What do you miss the most, with all the changes? The druggy bread from Amity, which reveals the peace-loving hippies aren’t all they’re made out to be?
Oh my God! I miss that scene so much! [Laughs.] It was so fun to write, and it was a new way of seeing Tris, which was really wonderful. Amity has always been slightly nebulous in that they’re representative of compassion and friendship and kindness and peace, all at the same time. They’re always trying to find an amicable agreement, like a way to coexist. They think they’re being kind by not engaging in conflict. It’s just like a totally different interpretation, and that’s the way the factions become interesting. Their own virtue turns on itself. It becomes the opposite of what it’s supposed to be. But, unfortunately, it’s probably not the most plot crucial moment, so it kind of had to go. I have a feeling the serums take a less prominent role in the movies because they’re a little harder to explain. They’re not crucial, but I like ‘em.

Where would you want them to split Allegiant at this point?
I don’t know. For me, it’s one story, because if it hadn’t been, I would have split it. [Laughs.] It does seem to me that Allegiant has two major arcs, dealing with the aftermath of Insurgent inside the city, and what happens once they go outside. There are a couple places where they could split it, but I’m not exactly sure how they will do it at this point. I’m curious to see how it goes!

With Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, it was so necessary, and maybe I feel that way because I’m such a crazy fangirl, but I felt like that really worked, splitting it. And each unit felt complete. When I saw Part 1, and Voldemort was casting that spell that lights up the sky, I was just like, “Oh my God! This is amazing!” So in that sense, it really worked for that. I would hope that if they split something, it’s because it’s necessary to tell the whole story.

Some fans have started a petition, to try to get filmmakers to change the ending, to provide two endings to Allegiant, so that there might be one where Tris does not die.
Right. I talked to Shailene [Woodley] about how she reacted to the ending, and she really enjoyed the way that it ended. I don’t know. I wrote Allegiant that way because I thought that was the way it needed to be told, and so I feel very strongly about it, obviously. I know people feel strongly about it, too, and that’s fine. They’re allowed to feel however they want about it. I haven’t yet seen how they’re going to end it. But I don’t think they’ll do two endings. I don’t think anyone’s ever done that! Not like “Choose Your Own Story”–style!

Well, with Harry Potter, they got to have it both ways, in a sense. He lived and he died.
That’s true, they did! [Laughs.]

Do you feel like you’ve joined the Joss Whedon club? In your willingness to kill characters people love, the way Joss and George R.R. Martin do?
Oh man, is it a club? It’s good company to be put in. George R.R. Martin is pretty wonderfully ruthless.

Veronica Roth on Insurgent’s Changes