We need a new designation: there’s movies about the apocalypse, and all our valiant efforts to stop it from happening, from Armageddon to The Hunt for Red October, and then there’s the post-apocalyptic stories, from Mad Max to The Book of Eli and way beyond. There’s stories that are kind of both, too, like Twelve Monkeys and Terminator, where the apocalypse has ‘already’ happened but can still be undone. Adding time-travel to the mix kind of escapes these movies from the usual taxonomy, though.
Then there’s movies like The Divide, which is a title I initially didn’t go for, as it seemed too thematic and portentious, and maybe not catchy enough. Now that I’ve seen The Divide, though, I get it: it’s a story that’s straddling that thin line between the apocalypse and what comes after.
That thin, bloody line, I should say. That violent, dark, messy, inevitable place between the way it was and the way it is now.
This is where The Divide lives. No, this is where it seethes.
And, the odd thing is, for most of the first act, you’re pretty sure you’ve seen this movie: a screaming comes across the sky, resets civilization, and, like rats scurrying across the deck of a sinking ship, a ragged, random group of society’s leftovers dive for the last safe place. Like we see over and over in The Walking Dead, then, a group dynamic establishes itself, and power struggles cause that dynamic to crumble over and over again, Lord of the Flies style. And, yes, as always happens, there’s more guys than there are girls, and there’s a kid involved, and there’s limited food, water, weapons, and patience. Really, throw a bag of popcorn into a room of baboons, and the result will be about the same. These-type stories aren’t particularly uncynical as regards human nature, but they’re especially fun, too, because they hinge on our certainty that, if these people could all just get along, then things would be pretty hunky-dory.
But, if people were hard-wired like that, of course, then this apocalypse never would have happened, right?
Then, moving into the second act of The Divide, where allegiances shift and the walls seems to be pressing in even tighter, we actually get a little injection of hope: is there a way out of this warren? If they work together, maybe, yeah. At this point we believe in humanity. The people who seemed to be reprehensible are revealed to be industrious; in the new economy of survival, their formerly reprehensible behaviors are valued.
But, come on: we are what we are. Baboons right down to the bone.
Like somebody’s said, things fall apart.
You know how writers like to put their characters in extreme situations, as then that character’s true nature can finally be revealed?
This is the third act of The Divide. It’s an unmasking that, seriously, you’ll want to look away from. Not just the gore, every story worth anything’s got gore. No, it’s the . . . the depth to which this crew takes itself, as the writers take a sounding of the human soul.
And what they find, it’s not pleasant. The last twenty or twenty-five minutes of The Divide, you’re so wishing these people would just please put their masks back on (please), and comport themselves like characters in other movies, where injustice is punished, where good somehow manages to win—where the day can, with the right mettle and a little luck, be saved.
I’m not giving anything away, either. But I am saying that sometimes winning, that means cashing in your humanity in the process. What’s worse—or better—it’s that you’re not just watching some ‘them’ up on the screen, there. You’re watching yourself. When horror’s working as it should, as it can, that’s exactly how it works. You come out of watching The Divide slightly different than you were. All the zombie movies lately make living in the post-apocalypse seem like a pretty cool adventure, if you can limp through the rough patches. The Divide disabuses us of that notion. The post-apocalypse is a brutal, bleak landscape. If we come through it, we come through it a different species altogether, I’d say. Or: The Divide says.