Diverge film review: a man at the end of the world can change his past

James Morrison’s paradoxical apocalypse Diverge makes a double act of time

Diverge opens at the end of the line for bearded Chris Towne (Ivan Sandomire), his ailing wife Anna (Erin Cunningham) and perhaps all life on Earth. Chris and Anna are trudging across arid salt flats, shot wide with a smouldering New York City occasionally visible in the background. Their infant Dylan succumbed to a fatal pandemic some time ago, and now Chris is struggling to keep alive the wilting blue flowers whose curative properties have been staving off Anna’s death – but her fate is already sealed.

With hopes so slender for the future, Chris clings to the past – not just to the music box and origami crane that once belonged to Dylan, but also to the guilt and regret of his own role in bringing about present circumstances. At the moment when a truly desperate Chris reaches the coast, and finds himself both metaphorically and literally trapped with nowhere left to go but back, a stranger (Jamie Jackson) provides him with a way, precisely, to return to the past, rewrite history and undo mistakes. Yet it is Chris’ tragedy – and his redemption – always to be stuck in time.

Spanning both post- and pre-apocalyptic timelines, James Morrison’s feature debut begins with a viral doomsday scenario, then introduces a time-travel plot whose complexity gradually ramifies. Scattered through Chris’ ever-shifting present are not only recurring items (a wooden doll, a conch shell), but also recurrences of films past: Chris’ naked materialisation in the past recalling both The Terminator and 12 Monkeys; the blue flowers evoking A Scanner Darkly; and a hubristic corporation expressly named ‘Tyrell’ (as well as an origami-based message) conjuring Blade Runner. These open, dynamic allusions to different films’ storylines slyly point to Diverge‘s own model of the universe, in which multiple realities cross-infect each other, stretching notions of personal integrity and identity in variations as potentially infinite – and infinitely fluid – as the ocean.