Eye For Film >> Movies >> Divinity (2023) Film Review
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
Themes of immortality, fertility, over-consumption and capitalist exploitation inform this Sundance-selected feature, which tries hard to capture the classic look of Fifties science fiction but ends up looking more like a perfume advert. It’s one of those self-consciously artsy endeavours whose success is built on real talent but which uses its glamour to try to disguise a thin plot and poorly substantiated propositions.
The pre-credits sequence, which uses a choppily-edited montage to tell the story of scientist Sterling Pierce (Scott Bakula) and his desperate search for an anagathic which will keep the mind as well as the body young, is by far the best part of the film. In the scenes which follow we focus on Pierce’s son Jaxxon (Stephen Dorff), who has finally brought the project to fruition, making a fortune in the process, but is still trying to refine it, introducing different flavours and different sensual experiences. He’s distracted from his work by his girlfriend, which seems to irritate him even though he’s enthusiastic about the sex which follows, enjoying her body almost as much as the camera does. So enthralled, however, he fails to notice two mysterious young men breaking into his home, wandering around it for a while, and then sneaking into his bedroom.
These young men, both called Star (and played by Moises Arias and Jason Genao), soon have him as their captive, but don’t seem to have much idea what to do with him. They tell him that they are saving him, something which will come to make a little bit more sense (but not a whole lot) as writer/director Eddie Alcazar develops his worldview. Just as you are wondering why they have taken the absurd risk of remaining in his house, and what a guy like him is doing with no security detail, sex worker Nikita (Karrueche Tran) arrives there, apparently booked by Jaxxon, which is an odd decision for a guy who didn’t want to be distracted from his work.
She’s a high end call girl who teases the young men (and the audience) with promises of acting out their wildest fantasies, but as it turns out, they don’t have a lot of imagination. Nevertheless, thanks to a trick borrowed from Vulcans or gelfling, she falls in love with one of them. The actors do a reasonable job with this and it ought to prompt us to invest more in them emotionally, but that little flicker of substance get lost under all Alcazar’s borrowed style.
One might build an interesting film based on this premise, but Alcazar is no more imaginative than the brothers, and after another 40 minutes of posturing and posing and aimlessly wandering about, it all just fizzles out. There’s an all-too-familiar ableist subplot in which physical mutation is blamed on moral failings. A last-minute revelation about the origins of the anagathic manages to be both derivative and scientifically nonsensical, feeling more like propaganda concerned with our world than anything that could make sense in that one. Meanwhile, as a society of mysterious women wander around in leotards in the desert, the film makes a sharp turn into impregnation fantasy, projecting it, as so often, onto the bodies of women least likely to be able to sustain healthy pregnancies.
For all its faults, the film is pretty, and that will probably be enough for some viewers. There’s a bit of male-focused muscle-worship thrown in there too, so it’s not just women who are objectified, though this treatment of bodies sits a little oddly with the central critique of the desire to retain youth. At the very end, we are treated to a jarring but cute stop motion sequence by animator Misha Klein. It’s blended with live action into something which the director calls Meta-Scope, which makes him seem more like a marketing manager than a creative artist, and that’s the problem with the film in a nutshell. It’s all about selling ideas and not about exploring them. At any rate, they are ideas which have quite a bit of mileage on the clock already, so you might ask yourself if you wouldn’t prefer something fresher.Reviewed on: 08 Oct 2023