If that sounds grim, well… it is, sometimes. While the sequences involving Robert attempting to confront his dying wife are certainly heart-rending (perhaps a tad too forcefully), the movie’s most sublime moments happen in the present, when Putnam focuses on the man’s recovery. The bits where Robert encounters the insects he’s after are as magical and ephemeral as said butterflies.
The Dark Divide contains some stunning shots, courtesy of cinematographer Sean Bagley. He conveys the gargantuan splendor of the forest, of Mother Nature, his imagery complementing the film’s intermittent reminders to protect that what harbors us. There’s a moment when Robert stretches in his white PJ’s, as the sky darkens over a majestic landscape behind him. “Wow, that’s beautiful,” he comments. Then lightning strikes. That majesty and splendor are later starkly juxtaposed against Robert walking through a decimated-by-humans part of the forest, all stumps and fallen trees.
“…a probing, lyrical story of an inexperienced hiker’s journey of redemption.”
I’ve always been a David Cross fan. Primarily known for his comedy antics, Cross tones down the eccentricities here, delivering a poignant, introverted performance. The sadness is palpable through the bushy beard and thick glasses. The actor is in almost every shot, from confronting his dying wife to breaking down, naked and alone in the woods, and he’s magnificent. Messing’s role is somewhat one-dimensional, yet the actress imbues it with enough heart to overshadow the poor make-up. David Koechner makes an always-welcome appearance as a prejudiced man who once had a good heart. Putnam assembles a capable cast, but it’s Cross’ show all the way.
It looks like the curse of The Hottie & the Nottie has officially been lifted. The Dark Divide is about moving on, looking inward to get over grief, the healing power of nature, and the importance of preserving our species and ecosystems. “Once they’re gone, that’s it, they’re gone forever,” Robert says. “You don’t get to snap your fingers and have them come back.” He’s mourning both the loss of his wife and nature, and we mourn with him.
"…as tolling psychologically as it is physically."