Producers: Aaron Boyd, Ryan Frost, Tom Putnam, Jory Weitz and David Cross Director: Tom Putnam Screenplay: Tom Putnam Cast: David Cross, Debra Messing, Cameron Esposito, Gary Farmer, Kimberly Guerrero, Patterson Hood, Peyton Dilweg, Dyami Thomas, Olivia Ritchie, Brian Adrian Koch and David Koechner Distributor: Public House Films
If you’re searching for a way to get out into nature again without leaving your living room, you might want to consider this little picture about a long walk taken through Washington State’s Gifford Pinchot National Forest. It’s inspired by a trek taken by Robert Michael Pyle that led to his 1995 book “Where Bigfoot Walks: Crossing the Dark Divide,” and offers a healthy dose of humor as well as a few tears and much gorgeous landscape.
It also provides a rare leading role for actor David Cross, best known for television work in series like “Arrested Development.” He plays Pyle, at the time a lepidopterist at a small college, who is encouraged by his terminally ill wife Thea (Debra Messing), to fulfill his dream by undertaking the trip to find new species of butterflies and moths, something made possible by the receipt of a Guggenheim fellowship.
Cross’s abstracted but nervously self-confident manner is perfect for Pyle, portrayed in Tom Putnam’s script as something of a nerd who’s, temperamentally, woefully unprepared for such an arduous undertaking but waves aside warnings about the dangers he gets from colleagues at campus parties and locals he meets along the way to his destination. He just drives to the preserve in his ramshackle car, straps on his backpack and lumbers awkwardly into the wilderness.
It’s no time before he runs into trouble, nearly getting run down by off-road cycles as he struggles to climb a slope and almost falling off a steep cliff as he absently-mindedly tries to snare a butterfly. Naturally he loses his net in the process. And that’s only the beginnings of his misfortunes, which will also find him running around in nothing but his underwear and getting lost in a cave.
But there are certainly compensations. That cave episode comes as a result of Pyle’s thinking that he’s had a glimpse of Bigfoot and decides to confirm the sighting. He also has an encounter with a rare spotted owl. And as he stumbles through the woods he is often awed by the sight of the magnificent sunsets and gorgeous vistas; he comes to appreciate nature as well as studying it. And by the close he’s not trying to catch elusive creatures, but merely watches and records what he finds. The journey teaches him to commune rather than control. And periodic flashbacks to his life with Thea add touches of poignancy to the trip.
Much of the humor derives from Pyle’s occasional meetings with other humans in the wilderness. There’s a session with some loggers, in which he has a talk with the always welcome Gary Farmer as Densmore, a Native American who gently but firmly disputes Pyle’s views on conservation, and a campfire evening with some hikers (one of whom fires a rifle at him before recognizing him as human), including David Koechner and Kimberly Guerrero, who talk about Bigfoot. There’s also a pleasant exchange with an overworked forest ranger and a nice ending, in which Pyle stumbles upon a couple of campers who offer him a beer and a ride back to his car.
Technically there’s a rough-and-ready quality to “The Dark Divide.” Putnam’s direction is so unhurried that it sometimes feels lax (he and Sam Hook edited), and though Sean Bagley’s camerawork captures some lovely images, at times it’s a bit ragged. (The movie was, of course, shot on location in Washington and the Hood River area of Oregon.) The background music provided by The Avett Brothers can also be intrusive.
But overall the picture is an unpretentious and refreshing jaunt through the woods. And where else will you find a movie whose credits boast not only a butterfly and moth wrangler (Dana Ross) but an owl wrangler (Cash Morgan) and trainer (Jay Yost)?