The Divide 2011
THE DIVIDE: END OF THE WORLD NIHILISM
The Divide is the new film by French director Xavier Gens. The film was written by Karl Mueller and Eron Sheean. I first became aware of Xavier Gens through his insane Frontier(s) (2007). While watching Frontier(s) I knew I was watching something special. The film was visually beautiful even though juxtaposed against vile and ugly subject matter. Frontier(s) had that special attention to visual aesthetics that French films are known for paired with and an ugly tale of French country side violence. Next came Hitman (2007). A film based on a video game and a not so great video game at that. The film starred Timothy Olyphant and the Russian beauty Olga Kurylenko. The film was hit and miss for me but Xavier Gens aesthetic fingerprint was all over it as the film was visually very interesting. Xavier Gens returns with another ugly tale, this time dealing with the horrors of post apocalyptic survival. Can’t we all just get along. The answer is no. Never.
The Divide opens as we see missile strikes rain down on New York City reflected in the eye of of a young woman. We then see the resulting explosions reflected in the window pane that the young woman, frozen in shock, bears witness to the horror through.
A young man grabs the young woman by the wrist as the apartment building they are in erupts into chaos as everyone desperately reacts to the missile strikes. The chaotic crowd and the couple naturally flow to the street level exit in search of an escape. The blast and debris meet them at he exit. The young man, holding the girl by the wrist, quickly moves away from the bottle-necked exit and heads into the basement level followed by a few like minded people.
They arrive at the basement level and are faced by a steel door leading in the basement that is desperately being closed by middle aged man. The small crowd pushes the door open and gains entry. The middle aged man quickly begins to close the door yet again this time succeeding and closing the door in faces of another group trying to find refuge behind the steel door.
Inside the basement the survivors listen as the world outside comes to a crumbling end. The man that was attempting to shut the door is Mickey (Michael Biehn), the building’s superintendent. The people now in the basement were all tenants of the the apartment building; the young couple Eva (Lauren German) and Sam (Ivan Gonzalez), Delvin (Courtney B. Vance), Marilyn (Rosanna Arquette) and her daughter Wendy (Abbey Thickson), two brothers Josh (Milo Ventimiglia) and Adrien (Ashton Holmes) and Josh’s best friend Bobby (Michael Eklund). How will they find food and water? If they leave the basement, what waits for them outside. Who gets to answer these questions? Will they stick together or will they divide?
Those opening shots of the missile strikes seen as reflections in the eye of a human woman, Eva (Eve and Adam?), bearing witness to the end are devastating and timely given the world in which we live. Visually, the film is well presented. There should be no doubt that Xavier Gens has a visual sense that fans should take note of. The opening images as nuclear missiles hit New York city reflected in eye of Eva and then reflected in the window pane she is watching the horrific events through was a stunning visual. The events that follow are well structured and presented with a deft touch. The only problem with the film is that the material is just so miserably bleak that like the people in the film, we the viewer, also have no hope for a good out come. The film’s color palette is mostly muted and grimy but regardless it does manage some striking images at times. The opening is devastatingly colorful as the missile strikes create red and orange fireballs on a canvas of a blue sky. Josh’s end is another opportunity for color and produces a situation that can be compared to or analogous to the opening missile strikes. When all else fails, blow shit up. Josh’s adventure outside the basement’s steel door was visually interesting and presented as a stark contrast to the visual aesthetics of the basement home of the survivors.
Great performances all around but the standout is Lauren German’s Eva. Her performance is subtle and sometimes merely a matter of facial cues and body language but she portrays the danger that a young woman in a circle of men in this scenario would face perfectly. Michael Beihn is strong as well as the gruff Mickey. Major kudos to Rosanna Arquette for taking on such an unflattering role and giving it everything she had… wow is all that can be said. Milo Ventimiglia and Michael Eklund give performances that give us two of the most vile characters in film of recent memory. The glue that holds everything together is the beautiful, even in this disgusting setting, Lauren German.
One could make the the case that the situation in Mickey’s makeshift bunker is a microcosm of society. If man can’t get along on a large planet with room for everyone, how could he possibly get along in the confines of a basement. Eventually the strong and insane subvert the will of the rest. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Things eventually play out in the basement in the same way that they probably played out with the nations that pushed the button and with the same result. The purging of man by fire.
Eva is last hold out not allowing herself to succumb to hopelessness. Minds crumble around her like the buildings outside the basement but she manages to keep it together. Even when she escapes she can not escape man’s greatest weakness, his propensity to destroy everything he touches including the women they purport to value. This type of situation shows the precarious nature of women in our modern society. They are the well spring of man yet men use and abuse them then discard them when they are done with them like yesterday’s news. In this scenario, a woman is in the most danger even in the safety of a locked basement under the protection of men. As is always the case, they have more to fear from the barbarism of men than any other threat. Mickey, having lost his woman, may have been the only one who understood what was to come. Maybe that is why he was trying so desperately to close the door to the basement and not let anyone in. He knew he was better off alone.
The Divide opens with Eva staring at the New York city skyline as the devastation begins and ends with Eva staring, once again, at the New York city skyline changed. The film comes full circle. I think I could make the argument that the film has a feminist attitude or outlook, albeit bleak and pessimistic. The women are not being protected in the film. They soon become a resource like water or food. They are stripped of their humanity by most of the men in the film and are used or valued for the immediate pleasure they can give not for their importance to the survival of the human race. I think the men in the radiation suits who snatch Wendy understand the latter but still deny them their humanity using them as a resource. The men in the film are not portrayed in a flattering light which supports my feminist argument. Bobby is even willing to be his own woman by the end of the film. Perhaps he is rejecting his own masculinity in disgust. The short sighted out look of the men in the film, other than Mickey, is stunning. I could argue that the short sighted outlook was shared by those that pushed the button and sent those missiles flying in to New York City setting in motion the end of all. How can we rebuild a new world without women?
The Divide is an ugly miserable slog to sit through presented beautifully. It is a decent into the barbarism of men. The film is visually striking at times and ugly and grimy as the narrative descends into darkness. There are some familiar faces among the actors that by the end of the film become unfamiliar as they descend into the dark bleak hopelessness of the minds of their characters. There some amazing performances to be enjoyed in The Divide. Make no mistake, this is a tough film to watch because the material is difficult. Xavier Gens presents this difficult material with a deft hand and a striking visual sense. It is definitely worth your time and worth the watch if you can stand such ugly realities about our society and the human animal. Check it out.