The Dark Divide

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
The Dark Divide Movie Poster Image
Touching wilderness story has too many distractions.
  • NR
  • 2020
  • 107 minutes

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Self-discovery is a journey that can involve courage, overcoming obstacles, and trial and error and lead to learning, improving, and interactions with others who may not share your views -- as well as learning to live with grief.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Robert Pyle gets credit for trying to break out of his comfort zone, summoning his courage to face something potentially dangerous, being open enough to learn from mistakes. But he's also presented as a comical, clownish figure from time to time, and the movie's handling of his mistakes as both slapstick and pathos sometimes creates frustration.


Brief guns and shooting. Robert is threatened and beaten up by loggers. Moments of peril. Cancer and death are dealt with. Vomiting, diarrhea. Panicking, crying, screaming. Lancing blisters.


Main character's naked butt seen. He also bathes in a waterfall and wears only underpants in several scenes.


A possible "f--k" half-heard over sound of storm, plus infrequent use of "a--hole," "ass," "dumbass," "goddamn," "son of a bitch," "crap," and an exasperated "God bless it!" Uses of "Jesus" and "God." Poop joke.


Starbucks cup shown. Sierra Nevada beer shown.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Character wakes with bottle, glass of brown liquor by bedside (suggesting hard drinking). Drinking beer around campfire; character passes out. Social drinking at a party.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Dark Divide is a biopic about butterfly expert and author Robert Pyle (David Cross) taking a 1995 journey into the Washington wilderness after his wife's death. It deals with death and cancer and has some strong moments of peril. A character gets beaten up, and there are moments of panic, crying, and screaming, as well as vomiting and diarrhea, and blisters being lanced. Language includes a possible use of "f--k" (barely heard over the sound of a storm), plus infrequent uses of "a--hole," "goddamn," "son of a bitch," and more. Pyle's naked bottom is shown, and he wears only underwear for several scenes. There's some social drinking and the suggestion of hard drinking; at one point, a character passes out. The movie has many moving moments and a clear message about the value of self-discovery, but it's also too inflated with slapstick, pop songs, flashbacks, and colorful side characters.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byphilshibano September 22, 2020

Wonderful outdoor adventure with positive messages

My son is 12 and loves the outdoors. He and I really enjoyed the film even though it deals with some adult issues and has a couple of bare bottoms. It reminded... Continue reading

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What's the story?

In THE DARK DIVIDE, butterfly expert Dr. Robert Pyle (David Cross) is struggling with his new book while caring for his wife, Thea (Debra Messing), who's dying of ovarian cancer. Pyle has often dreamed of a trip to Gifford Pinchot National Forest in Washington State to search for new butterflies, but he's never actually made plans to do it. When Thea dies, she leaves a surprise behind: She applied for a Guggenheim grant to fund his trip. So he heads out, with little idea of how to get by in an area that's said to encompass some 2,000 square miles of wilderness. And little does he know that he'll encounter evidence of a species that most people don't even believe exists.

Is it any good?

A good-looking wilderness trek that's likable enough for a few stretches, this biopic is, unfortunately, frequently stretched too thin, and Pyle's inexperience is often frustrating. Written and directed by Tom Putnam (of the unfortunate The Hottie and the Nottie) and based on Pyle's own book, The Dark Divide does a good job of balancing Thea's death and getting Pyle into the woods, but once he's there, it flounders. Pyle's amateur mistakes are played with a blurry sense of both slapstick humor and pathos, and it's difficult to know what to feel other than exasperation. When Pyle's pack tilts over and tumbles down a hill, your response may well be "how could you let that happen?"

Pyle's journey is also marked with several little montages (showing, for example, how he improves in crossing rivers and creeks), flashbacks, and far too many pop songs. Moreover, the movie is peppered with the expected encounters with several offbeat supporting characters (played by David Koechner, Gary Farmer, Kimberly Guerrero, Cameron Esposito, and others), but many of these scenes don't really connect. The Dark Divide works best when Cross is alone, making little discoveries and deepening his sense of self. (Cross is usually known for his acerbic screen persona, but here, he's quite touching.) It's too bad the movie as a whole couldn't have tapped further into these small moments of beauty.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about The Dark Divide's violence and peril. When something bad happens to Pyle, what's your reaction? Do you laugh? Are you scared for him? How does the movie evoke these reactions?

  • The movie is based on a true story. Did any parts seem like they might not have been entirely true? Why might filmmakers decide to alter the facts in a movie based on real life?

  • How does Pyle handle conversations with people whose points of view are different from his? Does he listen? Does he argue?

  • How did you feel about the nudity (and semi-nudity) in the movie? Does it send any messages about body image?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love dramas

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