Crash Analysis: THE DIVIDE (USA/Germany/Canada, 2011)

I’m stuck in a basement and missed the end of the world… 

Apartment dwellers hunker down in their building’s basement during the apocalypse

The divide is right: Most people having watched this sci-fi/horror fall into either two camps: love it or hate it. And from what I’ve read on the net, they’re at each other’s throats like politicians fear mongering for votes.

A group of people in Manhattan witness a nuclear attack, and rush into the basement for safety. Lo and behold, the building crumbles around them. Luckily, Mickey (Michael Biehn), the super, has prepared that basement as a shelter, so they can all survive for a long, long time… Well, not really. Mickey seems to be the only one with a survivalist state-of-mind, while the rest want to get out – as if there’s any other place to go. And with the nuclear winter in full swing, these New Yorkers must learn to accept their current and long-winded predicament as well as each other. No easy task, of course.

Some consider this one of the best post-Apocalyptic tales due to the characters and how they cope, or not cope, with their new nightmare. And for such a large cast of ten, this is pulled off quite well. Most of the characters seem quite balanced. This does not mean there is an equal amount of “good” or “bad” players, but those elements seem to reside in each of them. Granted, some characters lean towards being meek or hotheaded, and shell-shocked or confused, but there are no stock, one-dimensional personas to bore the viewer.

One of the actors to bring his character to life in the strongest fashion is Michael Eklund as Bobby. He’s brilliant in delivering a downward spiral transformation that is both emotional as it is logical. Eklund presented a rock solid, high quality performance worthy of the rental cost alone. Other standouts are Michael Biehn as the hard-wired super on a mission, Courtney B. Vance as the angry yet logical survivor, and Patricia Arquette shined in disturbing torment as broken mother Marilyn.

It’s clear Xavier Gens extracted the very best from the actors as he took us on a journey that makes the audience ponder about how they would handle such a horrific circumstance. To enhance the dull, dark aesthetic, while still allowing us to witness everything on screen, Laurent Barés cinematography is stark as well as fabulous. As for the screenplay, Karl Mueller and Eron Sheean delivered some wonderful subtlety concerning Mickey’s story and the rise and fall of the other characters.

So, why doesn’t this movie work?

Mueller and Sheean clearly focused on character development to bring us a grand character study. However, there are some major problems with the overall tale; they were too big for me to overlook, and they just happen to be the dominant issues that divide fans from non-fans.

 

*** SPOILERS ABOUND ***

 

Who nuked the United States? This is the open-ended question plaguing many. Some fans surmise that it was North Korea or maybe even the Saudis. Well, Saudi Arabia isn’t even on the nuclear watch list. To date, they have none. North Korea may have a stockpile of around ten, but the real key element people never seem to take into consideration is this: launch capability. North Korea can’t even fire a rocket from their own back yard. Furthermore, China can reach our west coast, but definitely not America’s eastern shores – yet. This would leave the following list of nuclear suspects: the Russian Federation, France, and the United Kingdom – and the United States government. Hmm… Moreover, we only see what the characters see: New York City in a nuclear meltdown. We have no clue as to whether or not the entire nation is under siege or even if this is World War III.

 

Our characters are attacked by a group of soldiers in extravagant, white CBR suits, which protect them from radiation. None of the soldiers sports ranking or insignia. However, one of the dead soldiers is later revealed as Tze Tao – and the ID card is in English. Now, Hai Tze Tao is a new religious movement in China based upon Taoism, or “living in harmony”. Doesn’t sound like people hellbent on bringing about mass destruction, though the writers haven’t revealed much about the name or implications.

 

Regarding the soldier, no one checked the suit for personal items or any clothing tags that might indicate nation of origin. Furthermore, no one looked for manufacturing information on the rifles. Now that’s pretty damn stupid for a group of people in dire need of knowing their enemy.

 

Another troublesome part is the enemy’s uniform. At one point, Josh (Milo Ventimiglia) puts on the suit, which fits him perfectly, and heads out on a mission of discovery. At story’s end, Eva (Lauren German), makes her escape in the same suit, which again fits perfectly. Amazing! Tailored combat suits are over-rated anyway.

 

The scene where Wendi (Abbie Thickson) is kidnapped by the soldiers, later to be found shaved and in a sort of cryogenic state with her “enemy” captors, also leaves the audience with many questions. Does the enemy want to extract her DNA to bring about a new order of humans to help replace a dead and dying world? We don’t know, but she’s with other children in an elaborate lab. Why did the writers even take us there?

 

If the filmmakers had left the entire “seeing the enemy” angle out of the movie, we could focus more on the character’s plight and the simple task of trying to survive in a hell hole. In fact the horrific theme of amorality or “how far would you go to survive one more damn minute” would have played stronger if we had remained with the characters in that basement without outside interference. Breaking that isolation, that claustrophobia, was a mistake.

 

If everything is nuked and destroyed, how is the basement getting power? At one point, a character mentions “batteries”, but we never know how much time has elapsed or how they’re staying charged. No one maintains a calendar. For all we know, by movie’s end, they could have been trapped in the vast basement for a month or a week.

 

The movie runs 112 minutes, when it could have easily been scaled down to 90, at least. Many scenes run a bit long, and the end of the second act/beginning of the third drags on too long.

 

Finally, the sole survivor (for now) is Eva, which is no surprise. After all, Eva is “Eve”, our new “first woman” of the species to head outdoors. However, it is extremely doubtful she could start a new world on her own. Nuclear fallout continues to swim down from the gray sky, and she’ll soon run out of oxygen – or the enemy will take her out. One can only hope this does not lead to some videogame like sequel.

 

*** SPOILERS END ***

 

Too many questions are left for the audience. And with a possible hint of organized religion and even biblical creation, one can also make the educated guess that our characters are in some sort of hell – if not purgatory – and a new day is dawning for a new kind of humanity. Granted, I don’t buy this idea, but it is an option depending upon how deeply one wants to indulge theme.

Fans and non-fans will continue to argue, and maybe that alone will bring THE DIVIDE to the level of cult status. Thanks then go to Mueller and Sheean who took one too many shortcuts, yet gave us enough to debate and ponder. Yet, it’s hard to argue that they did create a wonderful semblance of post-Apocalyptic characters that either rise (sanity) or fall (insanity) to the challenge of survival in a new world. Dystopia fans in general should enjoy the ride, at least.

Quality dystopic and Post-Apocalyptic fare you may enjoy (not all horror): WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953), COLOSSUS: THE FORBIN PROJECT (1970), A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (UK/USA, 1971), BLADE RUNNER (USA/Hong Kong, 1982), 1984 (UK, 1984), BRAZIL (UK, 1985), ROBOCOP (1987), AKIRA (Japan, 1988), 12 MONKEYS (1995), GHOST IN THE SHELL (Japan, 1995), STARSHIP TROOPERS (1997), EQUILIBRIUM (2002), NATURAL CITY (Korea, 2003), CHILDREN OF MEN (UK, 2006) and the horror, STAKE LAND (2010). (Yes, there are many others, but these are my true favorites – and one of the few dystopian films I want to see remade, with better art production and no Hollywood flash, is SOYLENT GREEN.)

2.5 out of 5 stars

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