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Tech-bro Psychotherapy: The Unintentionally Funny but Worthwhile Experiment of DIVINITY

I’ll start with a disclaimer that when I signed up to review this movie I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. The Fantastic Film Festival line-up appeared on the Farrago slack channel, and as I watched the opportunities for other films dwindle within minutes, I took a plunge and thought the title “Divinity” sounded pretty cool—“I like films that explore themes of religion,” I thought—no time to look up what it was about.

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I’ll start with a disclaimer that when I signed up to review this movie I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. The Fantastic Film Festival line-up appeared on the Farrago slack channel, and as I watched the opportunities for other films dwindle within minutes, I took a plunge and thought the title “Divinity” sounded pretty cool—“I like films that explore themes of religion,” I thought—no time to look up what it was about.

When my name was sealed, I googled it: 58% on Rotten Tomatoes. Richard said that “for a movie about our relationship with our bodies, there’s surprisingly little intellectual meat on its pretentious bones”; another review said that it has the energy of a bad acid trip but is destined for a cult following.

That aside, I’ll journey you into this, from a fresh perspective. Fantastic Film Festival is about pushing boundaries. Let’s be open-minded. Let’s enter into that trip; there are some gems in it yet to be discovered, I think. Maybe.

Enter a grainy black and white, fifties-esque universe of mostly desert, shiny bodybuilder men and sterile, magnificent mansions, interspersed with menacing, electronic drone music.

We meet middle-aged scientist Jaxxon typing intensely at a vintage computer, finishing the final stages of Divinity, a drug which will enable immortality. “Just one more moment,” he says, before he is coaxed into sex with a luminously beautiful and thin woman half his age. Advertisements featuring Jaxxon himself hum out of a cathode-ray television set behind them:

“Remember, not aging is healthy, and your life will be at its beautiful best, with Divinity.”

But it’s not going to work. No. “The balance needs to be restored,” echoes out a shimmering diva in some other spot in the desert. And it doesn’t.

The film’s contention seems to be that the pursuit of longevity for longevity’s sake is yet another facet of consumerism, hedonism and, implicit in this, selfishness. “Here it’s either live forever or give life, and most people choose forever,” pronounces Nikita, one of the last remaining fertile females on earth. A consequence of divinity is infertility, which leads into director Eddie Alcazar’s seeming antidote to this whole fiasco—the figure of the child-rearing female, encapsulated by the “pure” women in the desert who are gathered to bring forth a “new world beyond our imagination.” Meanwhile, two brothers from another planet appear outside Jaxxon’s house to kill him. I think. Their motives aren’t super clear…

It goes without saying that the binary[1] of a selfish hedonism and the pure, somehow female figure of “giving life” is problematic.

But I’m not going to unpack that here. The main reason I’m not going to unpack it is because a distinctive feature of the film is its non-cohesive, surreal (some have said Lynchian) quality, which brings to the fore the sheer palpability of these themes rather than invites us to think about them on a conceptual level. That or it just sucks too much to hold any concept… let’s entertain the former.

There’s something particularly cathartic about seeing Jaxxon—who I interpret as a sort of Elon Musk, tech-bro figure—become a hulk-like monster after overdosing on his own divinity product, and then watching him devour a decadent feast in yet another hazy, jarringly cut scene. Our sensory immersion is all aided by the stunning 16mm black and white reversal film—a rarely used stock which provides extreme contrast—lulling us into such bizarreness, smoothing out the otherwise potentially harsh, confronting content. 

It’s in this non-rational, almost subliminal zone that we’re invited a bit more malleably into a sort of tech-bro psychotherapy. “You are no saviour,” the brothers say to Jaxxon as he is tied up to a chair. “You have to remove your pain, deep inside, let it go.”

Yet, though such non-cohesiveness enabled the film to touch me at a raw level at times, I was often left wondering if a choice was stylistic, or if it was simply bad writing. The overly profound, formal dialogue was key to the drug-like, surreal quality, but often it just made me laugh. At times, the vagueness of what was actually happening—where did the brothers come from? And yeah, what are their motives? —made paying attention all-together a little tiresome. I think this edging between an affirmatively non-cohesive stylistic quality and poorly landed, empty attempts at it is probably what suggests its cult classic potential: it was a cool experiment, and like a lot of cool experiments, it ends up failing and just being a bit funny.

That said, I’m glad this experiment happened. I think. At least, I hope to encounter more films where high concepts are explored in a visceral, non-cohesive way, and end, as this film did, by traversing mediums all-together in a video-game-like, up-in-the-air martial arts fight, which culminates with Jaxxon splattered on the ground, his skin speaking out in bliss at the life-affirming quality of mortality: “I feel so alive”, he grumbles. It feels like a rich way to explore theme to me, albeit with much more risk and potential to flunk.

 

 

 


[1] I do wonder, though, if it’s possible in high-concept genres such as sci-fi to do without these sorts of binaries, or is it just the territory of the genre? There are, perhaps, fruitful reflections to come from these sorts of questions even if the questions themselves are a bit fraught.
 

 
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