Is there something you always told other people you wanted to do? But never actually done it? A new exciting project that sits in your to-do list untouched for weeks, then months, and sometimes years?
Dr. Robert Pyle (David Cross) has a few too many things he has been putting off for a long time. He´s always meaning to write his new book about butterflies. He´s always meaning to write poetry. He´s always about to go on a month-long expedition through the wilderness to find and catalogue butterflies and moths.
But he never does it. Not until his wife Thea (Debra Messing), who is sick with cancer, urges him to live his life and go “chase something.” It is with her support, and a little pressure, that Robert ends up in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, about to go into a 30-day hiking trip deep into the dark divide (as the forest is named by the locals). Messing makes amazing work of the few minutes she´s onscreen, and brings a bittersweet humour to the occasion, that Cross matches effortlessly.
Nobody really believes he can do it, not even himself. But what follows is a long journey through the vastness of nature that makes Robert re-evaluate some things about love, grief and the way he was living his life.
You might be thinking, this feels familiar. Is it just another movie about someone going to find themselves in the woods, having and overcoming hard times, just like Wild (2014), or Into the Wild (2007), or My Lover, My Donkey and I (2020)?
While all these films have things in common, what differentiates The Dark Divide, directed by Tom Putnam, is its commitment to peace.
It could be the absolutely breath-taking visuals of nature, which were mostly shot on location with a very small crew, and that give the sense human beings are tiny. It could be David Cross´s awkward but gentle demeanour, as he plays Robert with a lot of heart – kudos to a scene where he saves a spider from drowning in his drink of lemonade for almost making me cry. But something about this movie makes you stop, breathe really deep, and feel serenity.
But you won´t be bored. It is the type of movie that could very well become boring. As more than half of its runtime is spent with Robert and the very very green, very very big and very very lonely forest. But save from a couple of minutes which could be shaved off the middle and a tonally mismatched scene with a half-white half-indigenous family that lives in the area, the film succeeds when it leans into the organic stillness of nature, and lets the audience sit with the experience. It is part fictional retelling, part documentary.
Tom Putnam adapted the dark divide from the real-life Robert Pyle´s book Where Bigfoot Walks: Crossing the Dark Divide. The book made Pyle a lecturer on the famous cryptid, as well as a beloved author. Bigfoot does make appearances in the movie, more in spirit, than physically. It is what he represents that is more important, the survival instinct natural things should have when faced with mankind´s destruction. This story may happen in 1995, but the message it brings is relevant to today´s times: nature is as much a part of us as we are of her, how dare we destroy it, when we could relish in it.
The film is not just quiet relaxation, but excitement for the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. It helps Pyle is a scientist, and Cross brings a spark to his eyes that shines when he is identifying berries, or looking at a shiny moth.
There is something more personal there you can feel runs through this movie´s lifeblood. Putnam knows the forest personally, and the familiarity is very present. Even when Robert doesn’t know these woods, the movie does, and it doesn´t want them gone. The Dark Divide is a love letter to the actual dark divide Robert hiked in 1995, and Putnam knew as a kid growing up around the area.
When we are living in such hard times, with a constant need to be online, to match the pace of this fast-paced world, The Dark Divide lets you in a beautiful forest for a while, and encourages you to slow down and look at the butterflies.
The Dark Divide will be available on TVOD/Digital platforms worldwide from May 21, 2021