Eccentric Silicon Valley billionaires who pour their fortunes into sci-fi-oriented humanitarian causes are often preoccupied with one of two problems: curing death or solving the planet’s looming underpopulation crisis. For every corporate giant that claims to have shaved years off its body’s natural aging process by switching to an all-mushroom diet, there’s another hatching a plan to quintuple humanity’s population by dispersing us across multiple planets .
In the two-dimensional comic book logic these dreamers often live by, the two goals seem to complement each other perfectly. Man-made immortality and rapid population growth are both safeguards against the demise of humanity. They are both ambitious declarations that the miracle of human consciousness will live on, no matter what indifference the universe throws at us.
Eddie Alcazar’s “Divinity” offers an alternative perspective. The black-and-white mindfuck of a film that borrows liberally from B-movies, film noir, porn, stop-motion and 1950s advertising, imagines a world in which our insistence on running from the inevitabilities of nature has robbed us of the only reason why we actually exist. Produced and “presented” by Steven Soderbergh – whose omnipresence in the film’s marketing materials is an entirely worthy price to pay for such a bold work of art to even be created – it is one of the most exciting midnight films of 2023.
“Divinity” begins with flashbacks of Sterling Pierce (Scott Bakula), a brilliant scientist who has developed an anti-aging drug that has the potential to make us all immortal. The serum called “Divinity” completely reverses the body’s aging process – but it is powerless against mental decline. Sterling believes that if he lives long enough to perfect the product, it could revolutionize humanity forever.
As it turns out, he was half right. When the film jumps forward in time, Sterling is dead and the operation has been taken over by his narcissistic son Jaxxon (Stephen Dorff). In a corporate restructuring reminiscent of Elon Musk’s ouster from OpenAI, Divinity has evolved from an altruistic nonprofit into a lucrative commercial venture. As a result, markets have been flooded with an over-the-counter version of Divinity that promises an eternity of physical perfection. The world is full of pumped up male bodybuilders and incredibly sexy women who have been guaranteed immortality as a reward for their vanity. The only downside is that no one can reproduce, depriving humanity of the fresh ideas that inevitably come from raising new offspring.
Jaxxon has benefited enormously from his willingness to capitalize on humanity’s shallowness, but he soon finds himself under attack on multiple fronts. Soon, two alien burglars break into his estate to kidnap him and his pseudo-girlfriend Lynx (Emily Willis), and a cult of women who refuse to put divinity over fertility issues—led by Bella Thorne’s Ziva—plan their own Attempt to repopulate the estate world without the miracle cure. (Between Synnøve Macody Lund’s Dr. Cecilia Pederson in “Saw X” and Jaxxon Pierce in “Divinity” it was one very (Bad month for movie impostors who inherited groundbreaking medical treatments from their idealistic parents.)
If we’re honest, you could forget much of this summary and still enjoy this film immensely, because Divinity is best understood as a mood. Its “Frankenstein”-esque plot is an excuse for an innovative filmmaker to explore a variety of abstract ideas while simultaneously bombarding us with retro-cool genre film imagery. Shot using a groundbreaking combination of live-action and stop-motion footage, “Divinity” is the kind of visual experience that more than earns its right to be weird. Alcazar falls back on whatever narrative thread he likes at any given moment, but once you realize that piecing his shots together into something truly coherent is a fool’s errand, it’s a joy to accompany him on this journey.
Alcazar’s visual tendencies are based on an understanding of the fact that our attempts to escape the Grim Reaper by searching for a pharmaceutical fountain of youth are a childish endeavor. That doesn’t mean it won’t work (or that we shouldn’t even try), but you don’t set out to reverse the course of nature without a childlike willingness to accept every inconvenient fact that comes your way , to ignore. So it’s fitting that the Divinity commercials bombard citizens with images of cartoonishly muscular men who embody an eight-year-old boy’s idea of the perfect human body. Or that samples of the anti-aging drug are distributed as prizes at the bottom of sugary breakfast cereal boxes. It’s a reminder that Jaxxon’s medical advances ultimately serve the vision of a boy who wishes he could grow up and become a superhero.
The film’s overarching vision manages to split the difference between the simplistic rules of an old monster movie and the endlessly complicated bioethics debates found daily in Silicon Valley. It often feels like we’re looking into a world that began as a carefully crafted backdrop for a 1950s Hollywood film, but has evolved at the same pace as the real world and now exists as a parallel version of our future. But none of Alcazar’s countless flourishes overshadows the film’s most troubling theme: no matter how much the world changes, we will never stop being afraid to leave it.
“Divinity” is now playing in select theaters.