If offered to you right now, would you accept the gift of true immortality? What would you give up for it? For some, it is a thoughtful question, but we might already be close to that moment. Life expectancy continues to increase, and as a species, we often deliberate on how to achieve longevity. Scientists toy with the idea of forever. The richest men talk about starting life on another planet and underground. The unthinkable has become touchable. But would immortality be good for humanity?
Divinity follows Jaxxon Pierce, the son of scientist Sterling Pierce, who created the building blocks of a groundbreaking serum called “Divinity” that allows for immortality. Like his father, Jaxxon has dedicated his life to the chemical, using it, however, for his own advantage. Unfortunately for him, two mysterious brothers will not let him get away with his plans. Featuring Stephen Dorff, Bella Thorne, and Karrueche Tran, the film will premiere on January 21st at the Egyptian Theater at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
Divinity is the second feature film by director Eddie Alcazar. His repertoire includes Perfect, Alcazar’s first released feature, which premiered in 2018 at South by Southwest Film Festival and was produced by Steven Soderbergh; Fuckkkyouuu, a surreal sci-fi short film shot in 16mm that premiered at Sundance Film Festival in 2015 and was the first work produced by Alcazar’s independent film finance and production company, Brainfeeder Films, in collaboration with music producer Flying Lotus; and The Vandal, his latest work prior to Divinity, a short film starring Bill Duke that premiered at Cannes Film Festival in 2021, where he connected with Stephen Dorff and Bella Thorne, the protagonists of his latest work.
Divinity sparks a conversation about the implications of achieving immortality. The risks and losses it may demand, and the effect it would have on humanity and its lived experience. Flaunt spoke with the director and three of the characters about the film, its message, and the meaning of immortality.
Without giving anything away, could you explain the plot of the movie and what Divinity is?
Pretty much, it is centered around the main character Jaxxon Pierce, played by Stephen Dorff, who has created a chemical that allows people to live forever. But mainly in the physical form. It’s not a complete solution just yet, it’s the physical aspect of immortality, not the mental. So that’s what he is looking to complete—the mental side. And that’s why he hasn’t taken it yet. But the whole society has been using it.
So the body stays young but the mind ages?
Exactly. And at the same time, the other big thing about it is that it doesn’t let you reproduce. So with the chemical, you are either going to live forever or you are going to still be able to reproduce and give birth. And I think that was a big question in general that sparked the film in the first place: what would you do? It’s a big topic of discussion for a lot of people. Would they rather live forever or actually give life?
How did this idea develop from that first thought?
There is no script for this film, so I was trusted with the virtue of doing my own thing. And I started drawing and sketching ideas, and that’s pretty much how it all came about. I was able to draw certain things that were circling around my head, at the time, with stuff that I was interested in. I was really deep into books on longevity, and I was surprised to see how many people in the world, all these tech moguls, were close to making this happen. So that was a pretty big thing that sparked my interest—how much people really want to solve death, and they treat it more as a disease instead of something that is natural.
What is the commentary the film is making, if any?
That’s the one big thing, I am not at all trying to preach anything. All I am doing is trying to pose questions. So the big thing is it hopefully makes people think about the concept of life, death, and rebirth. That’s the big question, and what it means to them.
Why did you decide on shooting it on film and in black and white?
Previously I’ve had a couple short films where I explored the same format. The first one being Fuckkkyouu, which is an 8- minute short in black and white, and then I did The Vandal, which is 15 minutes, so this is the last one of the trilogy. The third one is where I just try to push it to the limit and see if a feature can sustain this format.
What attracts you to the sci-fi genre?
I think it’s just more the technology of it all. Where the world is going. Not necessarily that I am trying to make a sci-fi film, but more like just going out to do something that I am really inspired by that is happening in the world. And how that influences us and the philosophical ideas it is exploring. And they happen to be a little more sci-fi. This film could also be defined as a thriller, it could be suspenseful. All these different genres.
What do you expect from its premiere at Sundance?
I hope a lot of people are able to see it, and after I hope it gets sold in a strong way and the world gets to see it. Now, whether or not, they like it or not I think that is hard to control. But hopefully, it makes them think.
As the one posing all these questions, would you want true immortality?
That’s a good question. I am always thinking about that, and I think yes one day, and no the other. So it’s a constant back and forth. I feel that a lot of people that want immortality fear death because there is no hope for the afterlife, but if you think there is a better place or more beautiful place after you die, then why would you want to live forever? So I think that’s a big thing, what religion you are a part of. But I think it’s interesting because it is a bit hard to comprehend because if you live long, how are you going to retain all that in your mind, unless your mind expands and your brain gets bigger, or whatever. So that is a constant thought of mine. Even if you live that long, what type of person would you be with all these memories, or would you even have the ability to access all these memories? This is the theme of the film, because it has kind of become a perverted world, because people become desensitized because they’ve gotten used to everything. There’s nothing new anymore.
Any last words?
I hope everybody really enjoys the film and all the hard work that everybody has put in. It’s rare to have something like this be made with the trust of the financier, and from everybody going a little bit blind into something just super creative and allowing a lot of exploration for all of the creatives involved.
Stephen Dorff has a myriad of titles under his belt. Growing up in Los Angeles, Dorff started doing commercials at a very young age, followed by TV shows at the age of 13, afterward landing the character that he is best known for: Roland West in the third season of HBO’s crime drama anthology series True Detective. However, it wasn’t until his role as PK in The Power of One that he decided to forgo college and commited to acting full time. Dorff has since appeared as Stuart Sutcliffe in Backbeat, Johnny Marco in Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere, and Glen in The Gate. Now, he stars in Divinity as Jaxxon Pierce, the manufacturer of Divinity.
Tell me a little bit about the movie and your character Jaxxon.
I met Eddie, and I really liked The Vandal, his short, and we started talking during Covid, and we wanted to work together, so he started crafting this movie. It was only a 30-40 page script, and then he just kept embellishing the idea. For me, it’s a home-invasion movie set in the future. It involved a lot of physicality—a crazy physical performance, just because of the makeup and the way the character speaks in a higher voice, and everything about this character is so not me, so it was trying to find out what Eddie wanted.
My character—he is a billionaire, he has taken his father’s idea and pushed it to the extreme. He has a lot of issues going on, but at the same time, he is incredibly smart. He has Aspergers, maybe, I don’t know what he’s got, but we tried to look at a lot of these smart people when trying to create him. Elon Musk interviews or these weird interviews on this website with really, really smart people that, to me, don’t make much sense, because I don’t really operate that way. But, you know, they are speaking in code and stuff. Ultimately, to me, it’s like A Clockwork Orange meets Elephant Man, as far as when I was making it, that’s what it felt like. I felt incredibly limited—I am in a chair for most of the movie, strapped down naked. I am also wearing 40 lbs of prosthetics at a certain point. Ultimately it was an incredibly physical kind of performance for me.
How was working with Eddie Alcazar?
You know Eddie is an artist. He’s done other films, but to me, I really saw him as an artist, and as a filmmaker that was doing things that I hadn’t seen before, and that’s rare at a time when I think movies are really bad and unoriginal. So immediately, as an actor, you have to latch on to certain filmmakers that you want to work with and that want to work with you. An actor needs a great director. So I went on this journey with him. I went for it with Eddie, and I haven’t seen the finished movie, but I’ve done a lot of work soundwise and I’ve seen enough of it to know we made something different. It’s definitely not what you normally see. I had a great time working with Eddie and I hope to make other movies together. I really love his approach and I hope to keep learning and keep getting better together.
Eddie, again, he is an artist. You have different ways of making movies, you have the conventional way, and you have a way that is a little more abstract. This was definitely in the more abstract category. We were also shooting film, which complicates things. It is also really cool—I love film—but it’s challenging. It’s harder to light. He basically took some of the most challenging things and decided to make a movie with all of them. But that is what makes Eddie Eddie, and what makes this film dynamic and exciting.
How does it feel to be premiering at Sundance?
I think Sundance is a great place for it to launch. I hope the movie has a good reception. I haven’t been to Sundance in years, so it’ll be really cool to show this there.
What is the ultimate message of the movie or what commentary is it making?
Divinity is a chemical that makes you live forever. It beats cancer. It’s like a human growth hormone on crack. You hear about the top 1 percent of the richest people in our world that are building an underground city for when the apocalypse happens. And you hear all of these things, and it might be true. I think what this character is doing is on that same wavelength. He’s doing something that’s taken over, that’s become a part of life, people need this chemical, but karmically, in the way he is doing it, it is very dark, and he has lost his mind, in a way. So I think, ultimately, what started as a brilliant idea from his father, to create longevity and life, Jaxxon has taken to a whole other level, to be his idea, and people want to stop him, and reverse the effect of the drug, and they do that to him.
Eddie is doing things in a Kubrickian way, in a way that I haven’t seen in a long time, or maybe ever, as far as what he does with his animation and the miniatures, and all the stuff he does, incorporating live action, but doing it in an artistic way, not in a silly way. For me, throughout the movie, I am basically becoming a giant muscle, my head is imploding, so it was just a totally different performance. I had never done something like it, and that is always exciting.
Would you take Divinity and search for true immortality?
Probably not. I definitely am a believer in stem cells and all these different things that are out there, that you can’t really do in America, but you can do in other places to cure people that have gotten sick. I am a believer of science, and the next great cure, I want to believe in that. But it seems like we are in 2023 now and there is no cure for cancer, yet we have all these other innovations. In my personal life, I am a little skeptical. If there was a chemical or a drug that could take away all the bad and give you all the good, then sure, I would probably take it, but who knows if I will live that long when we have one of those pills. I would like to get one of those pills. I smoke too much and I really don’t want to die.
ZADIG & VOLTAIRE jacket and pants, JIMMY CHOO shoes,THORNE necklace and rings, and talent’s own bracelet.
Bella Thorne is an actor, singer, writer, producer, and director. Thorne started her career gaining prominence on the Disney Channel series Shake It Up. She has since appeared in numerous feature films including Blended, The Babysitter film series, The DUFF, and the drama series Famous in Love. Her latest work includes the thriller Girl directed by Chad Faust, and season 1 of Amazon Prime Video’s Paradise City. She also recently launched her jewelry brand, Thorne, and announced the release of her own podcast in collaboration with her sister Dani Thorne. Now, she stars as Ziva, the leader of the women’s movement against the chemical, in Divinity.
Tell me a bit about your character.
I play Ziva, and I am essentially the leader of the women who are still alive and can still give birth. That still has the ability to give birth. I am the leader of these women and I am showing them how to stay alive and protect themselves from the world out there.
So women that have chosen not to take Divinity?
Correct, we haven’t taken the drug yet.
How was working with Eddie Alcazar?
There wasn’t a script, so it was just going off of Eddie’s words, and I thought that that was a really interesting way to work. I had never done that before. Eddie is amazing. I love Eddie. I met him at Cannes not too long ago when his short film was premiering there, and we just immediately hit it off. He reached out to me and we talked about a couple projects and he was working on this one. He, in general, is super interesting. He is extremely smart. He is also super down to earth, and I love that. You can grab a beer with him kind-of-guy.
Walk me through how filming a scene would go without a script.
Me asking him lots of questions. What am I saying? What am I doing? What’s my motive? Backstory? All those kinds of things. And it’s really just Eddie and I talking about it and putting it together. There was not much preparation since he was very secretive about what I was going to be doing.
I was really excited to work on film. I had not worked on film like that before. So it was really interesting. I got to learn a lot about lighting on film and using film in general, and that was cool, because I want to be a director, so it was a nice learning experience for me as well.
You have done sci-fi before, what attracts you to the sci-fi genre?
I have definitely done my fair share of sci-fi. I had never done something super dystopian like this, and that was a change for me for sure. I love sci-fi. I am a big fan of sci-fi, thriller, horror, and psychological. They can all go hand-in-hand in a beautiful way.
How do you feel about premiering at Sundance? What do you expect?
I am super excited. I don’t know what to expect. I haven’t seen the movie myself, so it will also be my first time seeing it. I hope people dig it. I am super happy with it. It’s definitely really interesting material, and the whole thing is just fucking crazy.
Would you have taken the Divinity chemical and chosen true immortality?
No, and no. No, I would not choose immortality. I think I would be way too scared to do that. I would be one of the women still left alive.
You mentioned you wanted to be a director yourself, tell me about it.
I do want to do a lot more directing. I am studying and always learning. I do a lot of writing. I wrote a book, and now I am working on my second one. And I do a lot of script material. I’m definitely really interested in all the creating process and I’ve been lucky enough to get to produce a lot. And now I am stepping outside of my own movies to produce other projects. I find the whole world of creation very interesting. I was able to launch my own jewelry company, Thorne, and I am really excited for it because the feedback has been amazing so far. And the fans love it, and you can sleep in it, and wear it all day. It’s beautiful quality. I am so happy with where I am right now with my businesses and where I am at with my life. I just announced my podcast with my sister as well. So my happiness radar is pretty high up there. I am feeling so good, and then we have Sundance on top of all of it!
Tell me about your podcast with your sister.
I am really excited about it. It’s called Twisted Sisters [premiering on Amp on January 25th]. Me and Dani, for a while, have been wanting to do something like this. We get into those late night conversations and we are always like ‘ah this would be great to get other people’s opinions, and hear back from people on this, and to hear people’s personal stories with this.’ And that makes us all grow. You take a little bit of advice or this and that or even just a perspective of somebody else’s to find out who you are and make up your choice about who you are. And I think through conversation is a great way to grow, and healthy dialogue, and a healthy space to talk. And I am really excited that we get to do it with Amp because it’s live, and so it’s going to be really fun to see people in real time and understand their views about certain topics and situations, and just getting to really connect with them, in real time!
The actor and model, Karrueche Tran plays the cunning Nikita, in the retro sci-fi thriller. Her tantalizing role in Divinity follows her as she question one’s purpose and the true meaning of being alive. Before dabbling with immortality, Tran portrayed Virginia Loc on the beloved TNT series, Claws where she then went on to star in the web series, The Bay as Vivian Johnson. The actor also features in A Weekend with the Family and The Nice Guys before taking the spotlight in Only for One Night. Tran finds herself longing for something “super action-packed” and continues to have an open mind to wherever she will go next or whoever she might be next.
How would you describe Divinity and your character, Nikita?
Divinity is something like you’ve never seen before. It’s very different. It’s about this chemical that makes you immortal, and it’s about this scientist that is trying to work out this chemical and trying to produce it. But there are all these complications that are happening, one of which is that you are unable to reproduce. So it’s this big conversation about whether you want to stay young forever and look a certain way forever or do you want to be able to reproduce and add onto this world. And the words I am saying now do no justice to what the film actually looks like.
Nikita is one of the girls that comes into the question of ‘am I a part of this?’ ‘Do I reproduce?’ ‘Where do I fall in line?’ And she finds herself in this Divinity world and meets the alien brothers, and the story just unfolds from there.
How was working with director Eddie Alcazar?
Eddie is insanely creative. It was a pleasure to be able to work with him. I like structure, I like to study, I like to be prepared. I like some type of schedule and to be able to rehearse, and with Eddie it just doesn’t work that way. I had to let all of that go and just trust Eddie’s vision, and lean into that. There was a lot of Eddie just tapping into his creativity and his art and bringing it to life. And me just going with it without really understanding what was going on or what it meant. Just allowing myself to be a part of Eddie’s art.
Had you done sci-fi before? And how was that experience?
I had done something sci-fi years ago. A sci-fi horror. But nothing on this level. For me, as a growing actor, I am just trying to expand my artistry and the different characters that I can bring to life. I’ve done a lot of great roles, where I was the girl next door, or the wife, or the girlfriend, or the friend, and this was something so new, so different. I want to be able to expand as an actor and this has helped me reach that goal.
How does it feel to be premiering at Sundance?
The fact that we are premiering at Sundance… that was on my bucket list! I’ve never even been to Sundance, and to have a film premier there. It’s just like ‘wow.’ It’s so trippy. I am so excited. I cannot wait to be there. And then to finally watch the film! We haven’t watched it yet. We’ve done ADR, so I’ve seen little bits, but I can’t wait to see the film in its entirety.
What is the ultimate message of the movie?
From Eddie’s words, the film is about rebirth and afterlife, and there are a lot of different takeaways from it. But the most important takeaway is the conversation about the film. Getting that conversation going, getting people to start questioning themselves, the movie, the world. Eddie is a great conversation starter with his work. There are a lot of elements to it, and so many different perspectives that viewers can have, in all his films, but especially in this one. I compare it to Jordan Peele’s Nope, and Us in the sense that there is so much commentary. Some people hate it, some love it. Some people leave confused and don’t get it, some people have a laugh and understand it. But it makes everyone think. I think the main purpose is to get people thinking and talking about a different world outside of what we are used to.
Would you have taken the Divinity chemical and chosen true immortality?
After seeing the effects, I wouldn’t take Divinity, no. It’s pretty intense. You’ll see. It gets pretty crazy.
Photographed by Lowfield
Styled by Jenny Haapala
Written by Constanza Falco Raez
Flaunt Film: Christina Bryson