From the director of the 2008 “classic” The Hottie & the Nottie comes a probing, lyrical story of an inexperienced hiker’s journey of redemption. No, really. Filmmaker Tom Putnam’s The Dark Divide is a leisurely paced, soulful study of a man’s self-(re)discovery that bears no resemblance to his earlier Paris Hilton-starring trainwreck. Unchained from the Hollywood system’s artifice, the filmmaker displays a real knack for creating a meditative mood, stringing together poignant sequences, and eliciting an unexpectedly powerful performance from his lead.
Based on renowned butterfly expert Robert Pyle’s book, the film takes place in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in 1995, “one of the largest undeveloped, unexplored, and unprotected areas in the United States.” It’s referred to the locals as—you guessed it—the Dark Divide. Sponsored by the Guggenheim Museums and Foundation, Robert (David Cross) ventures into the woods for 30 days, despite the locals’ warnings of ravenous bears and slippery trails, in search of a new species of moth and butterfly.
“…ventures into the woods for 30 days, despite the locals’ warnings of ravenous bears and slippery trails…”
Robert tumbles into rivers and caves. He gets hunted by wolves, pummeled by rain, ridden with diarrhea, and stalked by bears. He stumbles on what may potentially be a Bigfoot track (“I mean if you were one of them, wouldn’t you hide from us?”). As The Dark Divide progresses, Robert goes more and more primal, shedding his proverbial (and literal) clothes. He ends up attempting to save trees, conquering frosty peaks, climbing through narrow precipices—all of which leads to a sublime finale involving a spotted owl.
Of course, Robert’s journey is as tolling psychologically as it is physically. He seeks more than just butterflies and moths on this trip. Robert’s path is a way for him to grieve the loss of his deceased wife, Thea (Debra Messing), who’s shown in flashbacks suffering from a terminal illness. Vivacious and gentle, Thea was Robert’s inspiration, until cruel fate ripped her away, forcing him to face his demons. The Guggenheim sponsorship was just a catalyst.
"…as tolling psychologically as it is physically."