Divinity (2023)

Divinity first published by Signal Horizon

Divinity begins with a birth – or something like one. An object resembling a ribcage in X-ray pulsates kaleidoscopically as a crack appears in its centre and widens, opening up and out like a dilating vagina and filling the screen with light as though the viewer had just passed through a birth canal. Following this monochrome abstraction, the scientist Sterling Pierce (Scott Bakula) is seen, also in monochrome, filming a video diary in the lab where he has been working day and night on a chemical compound – named Divinity – that he hopes will confer upon the universe, and upon his own ailing body, what he calls “a new beginning”. Yet as his young sons Jaxxon and Rip play in the background, Sterling is uncertain whether the dream that he has conceived – a dream of immortality – is safe enough yet to be brought to term, even as his own time is rapidly running out. 

Cut to some decades later, and with Sterling long gone, his now adult son Jaxxon (Stephen Dorff) has successfully brought a corrupted version of Divinity to the global market, and changed the world, even if all those who now use it – and that is the vast majority of the Earth’s populace – have, in their eagerness to live a life of eternal pleasure, sacrificed their ability to have children of their own. Birth itself, it would seem, is nearly a thing of the past – and the small number of ‘pure’ women who have never ingested Divinity and so remain capable of reproduction are gathered up to an ethereal space by the agents of a cult-like all-female group (led by Bella Thorne’s Ziva), in what is a kind of insurance policy for the species’ future. 

Meanwhile, two enigmatic brothers (Moises Arias, Jason Genao) are seemingly born out of glowing holes on the desert floor, and head to Jaxxon’s isolated home/laboratory to stop the next stage in his development of Divinity, and to give him a big taste of his own medicine. Soon they are joined by the ‘pure’ sex worker Nikita (Karrueche Tran) who imagines that they are the johns who hired her services, and in this neo-biblical tale of fathers and sons, messiahs and molls, angels and devils, gods and monsters, there seems to be more than one kind of divinity working its mysterious ways.

  Like its writer/director Eddie Alcazar’s previous Perfect (2018), Divinity is a sci-fi allegory of human aspiration and evolution set mostly in a remote modernist mansion – except that Jaxxon’s luxurious home is not in the jungle, but out in the desert, a place whose very infertility reflects the new world that Jaxxon is creating. This is a peculiar parallel universe, presented in black and white (at least until the film’s final image), and offering a stylised future very much of the retro variety (all cassette tapes, VHSes, clunky answering machines, analogue equipment and 8-bit computer readouts). It is also a universe given over to narcissistic, masturbatory pursuits, as a series of background TV ads for body building and sex toys (and, of course, for Divinity itself) would suggest. For this is a fallen world, whose promised immortality comes with an unseen (but eventually revealed) immorality, and it is heading fast to a drugged-up dead end of sterile hedonism. 

Those brothers who have arrived from the desert expose the mutating Jaxxon’s hubris, showing him up for the monster he is. Their confrontation with Jaxxon and his own muscle-bound brother Rip (Michael O’Hearn) ultimately reduces all the film’s contradictory ideas to a bruising beatdown (with the final battle rendered in glorious old-school stop motion), while dividing its characters between flesh that is markedly not immortal and spirit that is disembodied and celestial. Divinity is pure cinema of ideas, taking the overweening, decidedly unnatural trajectory of a humanity that plays god over its own reproductive system and mortality, and resetting it in a final, surreal sequence that will send the bewildered viewer in a hermeneutic frenzy back to the film’s opening sequence. For the ending, with its return to/of nature via a mysterious Tree of Knowledge, lets a different ‘new beginning’ at last come to fruition, freakliy rewriting the Book of Genesis. After all, isn’t every birth a repetition and reinvention of what has preceded, in the self-destructive, self-perpetuating cycle of life?  

strap: Full of stylised retrofuturism and monochrome surrealism, Eddie Alcazar’s allegorical sci-fi imagines an evolutionary cul de sac at the end of birth

© Anton Bitel