Veronica Roth, author of the Divergent series, opens up about what makes Tris a hero and how complexity centers the protagonist in Lionsgate's latest release.
Veronica Roth, the author of the successful Divergent book trilogy, opened up to Hero Complex on why Tris' journey into accepting her less-than-ideal traits in Insurgent is so important to female audiences everywhere.
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Tris (Shailene Woodley) is main protagonist of the Divergent series, where some characters diverge off path set by those in charge. The book trilogy illustrates her progression and strength through adversity.
Roth told the column that "one of the lesser-talked-about ways of dehumanizing someone is to make them perfect." If someone creates an ideal without flaws, ultimately the character or persona is incomplete.
Think about celebrity and pop culture deifying. It's easier to tear down than build up a person if the world sees the person as perfect—one can only fall down from a pedestal, not climb higher.
And Tris is important because "no one can live up to that standard.” Young women need to know that inner strength doesn't involve infallibility, but the ability to find peace with every complex, nuanced part of who they are. And if something doesn't make them happy, reevaluate. Topics that may conflict with advertising media.
The author feels "Tris’ emotional journey is just crucial to Insurgent" and was happy to see the same theme on the Hollywood set.
"In order for her to become a stronger person,” the journey must include “the dark times on screen, not to just bounce back like a mindless action hero would but to grapple with what she’s done and what she feels like she’s done."
Not every hero, not every protagonist, needs to be John McClane or Dirty Harry. And not hero needs to be robotic or self-contained, either.
Ruminating and challenging the notion of perfection is central to Tris finding her own balance. "Compassion toward herself and forgiveness" create a complex character for young readers to identify with amidst the marketing media’s onslaught of narrow definitions of what a woman is.
"Young women are pretty much taught to constantly criticize themselves and to never believe that we’re good enough," said Roth. "And to see a young woman, even in the midst of a really fun and entertaining action movie, go through that journey is just so powerful for me to watch."
In the book, Tris narrates and self-reflects for a fairly large portion of the book. Obviously that won't work on the big-screen, so more action and movement was added to explain the revelations while staying somewhat true to the original plot.
On a personal level, Roth is perfectly fine with the changes. "I didn’t want to see a movie in which they’re just explaining things to you the whole time. I was prepared for a lot of plot streamlining."
Part of her approval mirrors Tris' own journey because "when you see that it works for the translation to a new medium, it’s really easy to accept."
Divergent, the first in the series, was written over winter break during her senior year of college. Perhaps one thing that really appeals to the readers is an emotional connection to pushing beyond stated limitations in a familiar setting. Hitting boundaries, hearing detrimental advice that the real world doesn't care about what you say, or about your experiences, can be jarring at first.
And in the books, the world is more shadowed and dark due to authorial intent. However, for the films and life, Roth observes that "we’re not constantly cast in shadow” and a brightness balance is needed to signify changes in Tris and audience.
Nor is the Divergent or real world monotone. The author’s need for diversity in casting is not just based in helping one type of audience feel connected, but many. Humanity itself is a collection of diversity, in all aspects. Eliminating a single vision, a single possibility, follows the theme of the movie.
So when production cast Daniel Dae Kim (Lost) as Jack Kang, an important piece to translating her written world into visual media clicked in place. His deep, soothing voice and quiet determination work well as a counterpart the more aggressive leadership by Jeanine (Kate Winslet).
Kang isn’t exactly the most vital member in certain moments of the movie, either.
“He kind of gets trampled by all of these really powerful women, which is awesome. But I didn’t want him to be a useless leader; he just knows his limitations.” Knowing limitations isn’t a bad thing because it mean someone else’s traits will help balance movements and progression.
She admits the actor’s on-screen charisma is vital to the leader’s role, too.
Kim “brought a kind of power to Jack, which is really fortunate, because he doesn’t have the most active role in this movie.” By knowing how to embody and present the role, Tris’ journey becomes more faceted, helping lead up to a more centered protagonist.
And the opening weekend prediction of $54 million seems to indicate fans are looking for a complex, true character. Maybe Hollywood will take note and stop foisting the lacking of female-led movies on audiences, saying no one wants to watch them.
Fans of Tris and Katniss (The Hunger Games) may disagree.
Last month, Variety reported on a study by San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film indicated only 12% of the movies led the box office.
Executive director and study author, Dr. Martha Lauzen noted the age disparity and by keeping characters young—Katniss versus McClane—the male-dominated power level threat is nullified. “As we grow older, we gain personal as well as professional power.”
Roth’s insistence, Robert Schwentke's direction, and Lionsgate’s agreement that Tris not be emptied out for commodity is very important for women audiences. Not giving in, not bowing into the prescribed perspective, motivates change for the next generation of leaders. Empowerment begins with representation.
Insurgent is in theaters now.
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Source: Los Angeles Times, Variety