Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Movie with Abe: The Dark Divide

The Dark Divide
Directed by Tom Putnam
Released September 18, 2020 (Virtual Cinema)

There are a number of reasons that people take on challenging assignments. In some cases, they may have no choice and are required to do so by an employer or because they know that no one else will do it. In others, it involves a personal penance of sorts or a need to isolate from the world and focus on something that will prove truly immersive. Making a solitary journey that involves tremendous physical labor and emotional strength is not easy, and the notion of undertaking something of that magnitude can be quite daunting and intimidating.

Robert Pyle (David Cross) is a renowned butterfly expert always on the verge of writing his next book. His dying wife Thea (Debra Messing), who creates illustrations to accompany his work, is not content with him simply sitting around and waiting for inspiration to strike. Robert sets out with a Guggenheim Fellowship and an optimistic attitude for the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in Washington, ready to traverse its vast space to find and study a new butterfly species. Locals balk at his lack of experience camping and surviving in the outdoors, but he is determined to make it through and come out reinvigorated.

This film is immediately reminiscent of recent films like “Wild” and “The Way,” which find characters taking on long, laborious treks to connect with themselves and those that they have lost. This film has a more upbeat, adventurous spirit, one that finds Robert gleefully unprepared for much of what he meets, far more prepared to lecture someone on their problematic behavior than to outrun any of the animals he might encounter on his journey. Based on the true story of Robert’s 1995 expedition and his subsequent book, “Where Bigfoot Walks: Crossing the Dark Divide,” this film emphasizes the human side of Robert’s exploration, offering lower stakes than similar projects which might see their protagonists fighting for their lives against the terrifying natural forces conjured up by this film’s title, the name for the area Robert sets out to chart.

Cross is an actor primarily known for comedy, but he is definitely a strong and effective choice to play Robert, whose social skills do not match his scientific expertise. His style of speaking and mannerisms help make Robert a gradually endearing character whose behavior doesn’t always evoke sympathy and who audiences can relate to as someone in way over his head in his desire to achieve a theoretically manageable task in a wildly unpredictable environment. Cross carries the film in conjunction with its soaring imagery, presenting beauty that makes the best case for the film’s quieter moments as its most potent. Though this film doesn’t feel wildly original, its story is told and showcased in a sufficient and mostly engaging manner.


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