Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon & Leslie Jones To Lead Paul Feig's 'Ghostbusters' Reboot Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon & Leslie Jones To Lead Paul Feig's 'Ghostbusters' Reboot Harvey Weinstein Explains What Happened With 'Grace Of Monaco,' Says He Was Right About 'Snowpiercer' Harvey Weinstein Explains What Happened With 'Grace Of Monaco,' Says He Was Right About 'Snowpiercer' Harvey Weinstein Says Quentin Tarantino Has Changed The Last Chapter Of 'The Hateful Eight' Harvey Weinstein Says Quentin Tarantino Has Changed The Last Chapter Of 'The Hateful Eight' Sundance Review: ‘Slow West’ Starring Michael Fassbender, Kodi Smit-McPhee & Ben Mendelsohn Sundance Review: ‘Slow West’ Starring Michael Fassbender, Kodi Smit-McPhee & Ben Mendelsohn Sundance: Keanu Reeves Opens The Door To Trouble In Teaser Trailer For Eli Roth's 'Knock Knock' Sundance: Keanu Reeves Opens The Door To Trouble In Teaser Trailer For Eli Roth's 'Knock Knock' Watch: 8-Minute Video Essay Argues Steve McQueen's 'Shame' Is Actually A Critique Of The Modern Metropolis Watch: 8-Minute Video Essay Argues Steve McQueen's 'Shame' Is Actually A Critique Of The Modern Metropolis Watch: The Tampon Scene From 'Fifty Shades Of Grey' You Won't See In The Movie Recreated With 'The Sims' Watch: The Tampon Scene From 'Fifty Shades Of Grey' You Won't See In The Movie Recreated With 'The Sims' The 10 Best Films Of 2004 The 10 Best Films Of 2004 'Death Proof' Star Zoe Bell Leads Latest Additions To Quentin Tarantino's 'Hateful Eight' As Filming Begins 'Death Proof' Star Zoe Bell Leads Latest Additions To Quentin Tarantino's 'Hateful Eight' As Filming Begins Ranked From Best To Worst: Every Sundance Dramatic Grand Jury Prize Winner Ranked From Best To Worst: Every Sundance Dramatic Grand Jury Prize Winner Watch: 'Saturday Night Live' Sketch 'Fanatic' Written & Directed By Paul Thomas Anderson And Starring Ben Affleck Watch: 'Saturday Night Live' Sketch 'Fanatic' Written & Directed By Paul Thomas Anderson And Starring Ben Affleck The 10 Best Films Of 2003 The 10 Best Films Of 2003 First Look: Leonardo DiCaprio Gets Grimy In Alejandro González Iñárritu's 'The Revenant' First Look: Leonardo DiCaprio Gets Grimy In Alejandro González Iñárritu's 'The Revenant' 2015 Oscar Nominees Get The Honest Poster Treatment 2015 Oscar Nominees Get The Honest Poster Treatment "Carry Bolt Cutters Everywhere": Werner Herzog Has 24 Amazing Pieces Of Advice "Carry Bolt Cutters Everywhere": Werner Herzog Has 24 Amazing Pieces Of Advice The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far Watch: 3 Graphic, Very NSFW Clips From Lars von Trier's 'Nymphomaniac Vol II — Director's Cut' Watch: 3 Graphic, Very NSFW Clips From Lars von Trier's 'Nymphomaniac Vol II — Director's Cut' The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki Christopher Nolan Says His Howard Hughes Film Is Dead, But He'd Still Like To Do A Bond Film At Some Point Christopher Nolan Says His Howard Hughes Film Is Dead, But He'd Still Like To Do A Bond Film At Some Point

Review: 'The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came To Eden' Tells A Tale Tale, But Doesn't Quite Thrill

Photo of Kevin Jagernauth By Kevin Jagernauth | The Playlist April 11, 2014 at 8:33AM

As far as documentary subjects go, it doesn't get much juicier than the tale that launches "The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came To Eden." In the early 1930s, Friedrich Ritter and his mistress Dore Strauch split from their respective partners, left Germany and headed to the tiny, uninhabited, untamed Floreana Island in the Galapagos, where they dreamed of building a bucolic life, where they would rest, study philosophy and be able to pursue intellectual matters without the interruption of modern living. But those hopes are dashed when they are soon followed by others who come to the island, with scandal and possibly murder not far behind, with a yarn that is as unbelievable now as it probably was back then. But what should be a gripping, true crime/mystery story gets often bogged down by a lack of focus from filmmakers Dayna Goldfine and Dan Geller, who don't always realize the central saga can stand well enough on its own.
0
The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came To Eden

As far as documentary subjects go, it doesn't get much juicier than the tale that launches "The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came To Eden." In the early 1930s, Friedrich Ritter and his mistress Dore Strauch split from their respective partners, left Germany and headed to the tiny, uninhabited, untamed Floreana Island in the Galapagos, where they dreamed of building a bucolic life, where they would rest, study philosophy and be able to pursue intellectual matters without the interruption of modern living. Those hopes are dashed when they are soon followed by others who come to the island, with scandal and possibly murder not far behind, and a yarn that is as unbelievable now as it probably was back then. But what should be a gripping, true crime/mystery story gets often bogged down by a lack of focus from filmmakers Dayna Goldfine and Dan Geller, who don't always realize the central saga can stand well enough on its own.

The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came To Eden

Certainly, the cast of characters and personalities is pretty rich. Friedrich is a hardcore Nietzsche devotee, and a doctor, but one who doesn't brook any weakness, not even from Dore, who has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. His prescription is essentially that she shouldn't think like a sick person, and he's disheartened when she can't keep up with the physically demanding labor of clearing the land and building shelter. He's even more dismayed when she showers affection on a donkey, but soon he'll be able to point his disappointment elsewhere. Reading about Friedrich and Dore's exploits in German newspapers after their letters home are leaked, Heinz Wittmer and his pregnant wife Margret follow in their footsteps, but are almost immediately rebuffed on their arrival. Friedrich wants no part of them, and even refuses to tend to Margret medically, but the pair of couples quickly unite against a common enemy: Baroness Eloise von Wagner.

Arriving in tow with two young men, Robert Philippson and Rudolf Lorenz, Eloise behaves like royalty, expects to be welcomed without question and has an even bolder plan: to build a hotel. This incenses Friedrich, while Eloise and her lovers close proximity to Heinz and Margret also causes another array of problems. It's a rich, dramatic and fascinating stew, and at least for a while, Goldfine and Geller make it compelling. An all star voice cast including Cate Blanchett, Diane Kruger, Connie Nielsen, Sebastian Koch, Thomas Kretschmann and Josh Radnor give life to the letters and writings from all the players involved that have survived, providing character context this kind of documentary rarely gets. Moreover, home video footage from the time also brings additional texture, but the film takes far too long to get to the good stuff.

The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came To Eden

One can't fault the ambition, though the execution is clumsy, with the directors spending just as much time on the modern day inhabitants of the island, where the titular 'Galapagos Affair' is still the source of some chatter. The problem is, there's not much insight from those either directly related to the original settlers, or others who have attempted to parse the gossip and find the truth. These meandering sections of the film dilute the magnetism of the central mystery, one that involves delusions of fame, a cheap silent movie, a possible conspiracy, tragic deaths, jealousy and more. The richness of the material that Goldfine and Geller have access to is more than sufficient, but as 'The Galapagos Affair' creeps toward the two hour mark, with each minute making it clear that not only will there be no solution, but no real underlying thematic current either.

Though flirting with myth and fable — including an opening teasing the Curse of the Giant Tortoise — "The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came To Eden" doesn't reach those heights. Even the subtitle is misleading as it's unclear who the Satan of this tale actually is. Of the filmmakers want to join the line between the unknowability of evil and what unfolds on the island, it never quite comes together. It's likely you haven't heard a story as wild as this one in a while, but the digressions diminish how weird and odd it all was, particularly as the events unfolded in the span of a few short years. Goldfine and Geller want to understand the motivations behind the actions that led to what can only be presumed to be murder, but they forget that sometimes just experiencing a tale as surreal is this one is all you need to know to comprehend that there are no easy explanations. [B-]

This article is related to: Reviews, Review, The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


E-Mail Updates