Monday, September 15, 2014

The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden

IMDB Entry: here
Netflix?: yes
My rating (as a good movie): 5/5

This is exactly the sort of hidden hidden gem that makes me keep renewing my Netflix subscription.

It tells the little known story of Europeans (mostly Germans) who settled in the Galapagos Islands around 1930, and some of the mysterious events that followed.  I'll avoid spoilers regarding these events, but for me, they really took a back seat to the story of the settlers themselves.

The movie made me think of the saying "The common factor in all your dysfunctional relationships is you".  For the most part, these people weren't looking for opportunity, they were looking to get away from civilization - and it's clear that in most cases, *civilization* wasn't the problem.

The story was based on original writings of the settlers and some people who visited the island, as well as interviews with children and relatives.  Based on the apparent ages of the children, the interviews were all done about 15 years ago, and sat in the can until the movie was released last year. There's a truly amazing amount of film footage and photography.

The movie primarily focused on the three groups who homesteaded to Floreana, the smallest habitable island in the Galapagos.  Given their unusual shared destination, it's remarkable how different these groups turned out to be.

The first couple was Dr. Friedrich Ritter and his companion Dore Strauch.  They both left their spouses to find paradise in the wilderness - which turned out to be a lot harder than they thought it would be.  Ritter was frankly a pompous ass, who saw himself as a great philosopher. Strauch clearly worshipped Ritter, and he clearly did not reciprocate.

The next people two arrive were the Wittmer family: Heinz, Margret, and their son Rolf, who came because they feared a war was coming.  They were impressive in their normalcy. The saw themselves as the Swiss Family Robinson, and largely lived up to that vision, becoming the most successful of the group, in spite of Ritter's dismissal of them as amateurs.

The final settlers on Floreana were a colorful woman who claimed to be the Baroness Von Wagner and her two male lovers, who were all planning to start a hotel.  Their arrival also signals the start of the tension, which leads to some of the subsequent developments.

There are also some discussions of settlers on the other islands, as well as some writings by a crew member on a research vessel that visited the islands more or less annually around that time.

This is something that had once been a common story in the world, but this was pretty much the last time that people could really "leave civilization" and strike out on their own - albeit in a small and obscure corner of the word, and I found that concept absolutely riveting. At two hours, some might find it a bit long, but it held my attention the whole time.

Highly recommended.