Darien Gap (1996): Brad Anderson’s Promising Debut

Sundance Film Festival 1996 (Dramatic Competition)–“The Darien Gap” is a quirky, personal film about twentysomething entropy and alienation.

Idiosyncratic Boston filmmaker Brad Anderson’s feature debut displays a distinctive voice in one of the smartest and most iconoclastic a recent cycle of Gen-X pictures, such as Richard Linklater’s films, that is dominating the indie milieu. Anderson deserves credit for reworking ideas, some of which are by now clichs, about the slacker generation in an original way.

The story centers on a penniless, do-nothing youngster, a descendant of the unpublished poets of yesteryear, who finds artistic release and emotional catharsis in videotaping his buddies, obsessed with discussing their various problems.

A victim of arrested development, Lyn Vaus (played by an actor of the same name) still feels victimized by his parents’ divorce 20 years before. Lyn plans to go to Patagonia, a spot at the tip of South America, in search of a giant sloth that might be his animal world counterpart. The only question is how to get through the Darien Gap, an 80-mile swamp in Panama that interrupts the road.

Lyn Vaus is excellent as the tall twentysomething layabout, blessed with a command of language, and nurturing a vague ambition of making a docu on his Generation X. Lyn wastes a lot of time, makes the feeblest attempts to land a job and shows up regularly at the city’s coolest scene where he meets Polly Joy, an attractive and successful fashion designer.

Polly Joy (Sandi Carroll), a vivacious designer of “mortal coil” hats, doesn’t mind paying for Lyn’s drinks. In fact, she seems intrigued by the challenge of reforming him, even if her at first perceives her as an obstacle to achieving his goal.

Using a time-jumping scheme, Anderson documents the couple’s up-and-down relationship with poignant honesty. In the process, we get to see home movies of Lyn’s (actually belonging to Anderson’s) idyllic Connecticut childhood before the divorce and his problems with his distant father.