In The Dark Divide, middle-aged Bob — a character based on lepidopterist and environmental writer Robert Michael Pyle, and here played by actor David Cross — is often in his underwear, hoping his clothes will dry out, while making the best of it by swinging a net improvised from a stick and spare T-shirt after his original was lost over a cliff. The year is 1995, and he is on a six-week solo butterfly-and-moth survey across the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, just like the one the real Bob Pyle undertook for his book Where Bigfoot Walks: Crossing the Dark Divide. But the Bob in the movie is also groping for a way forward from the recent loss of his wife, Thea Linnaea (who in fact died 18 years later).
Director Tom Putnam’s background as a documentarian means the film is itself a gorgeous, close-up survey from Mount Rainier to the Columbia River Gorge: terrain lush and dry, with ice-clad stratovolcanoes like Mount Adams for cairns. The film’s Bob gamely navigates the gauntlet of the woods and his own greenhorn haplessness. He’s also thrust into confrontations with loggers. The spotted owl controversy is smoldering. The region’s other famous species, Sasquatch, tests Bob’s mental flexibility even more so. What does he really encounter when he crawls into a lava tunnel, again in his skivvies? A long walk can strip you down and, with luck, mend a few holes in your being.