The Galápagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden

This is not a quiz, or a joke, but actually a good question: What happens when a brooding Nietzschean gets away from it all to the Ground Zero of Darwinian epiphany, then gets deeply annoyed by the arrival of his new neighbors? The answer is complex, and cautionary. In The Galápagos Affair, filmmakers Dayna Goldfine and Dan Geller chronicle the true tale of strange events set in motion when, in 1929, the philosophically inclined German doctor Friedrich Ritter and his mistress Dore Strauch decamped for the totally DIY life in Floreana, a rugged and uninhabited island off the coast of Ecuador. Word got out, and soon the so-called “Adam and Eve of the Galápagos” found their solitude interrupted by the so-called “Swiss Family Robinson of the Galápagos,” along with a gun-toting Austrian baroness and her two peculiar lovers. By 1934, civilization was on the ropes back in Germany, but this tropical alternative seemed pretty much down for the count. With characteristic poise and intelligence, Goldfine and Geller spin the yarn very well, balancing eccentricity with accessibility. Their film makes judicious use of its subjects’ home movies and of Ritter and Strauch’s usefully articulate writings (read, respectively, by Thomas Kretschmann and Cate Blanchett). Blessed with a great cast of human characters, they also pay keen attention to various beasts, some more domesticated than others. If the movie tends to sprawl a little, that only reinforces its validity; too-tidy packaging might betray the telling, nuanced weirdness of the tale itself.