The Darien Gap

Director: Brad Anderson
Screenwriters: Brad Anderson

Institute History

  • 1996 Sundance Film Festival


Richly textured, funny and revealing, The Darien Gap tells the deeply personal story of Lyn Vaus, a young Bostonian whose poverty and homelessness don’t stop his attempts to plumb the essence of his generation (the dreaded Generation X, but don't let that put you off) through candid videotaped interviews with disenfranchised postcollege scenesters. But this aspect is just putty holding together this ambitious and well-told story. Eventually Lyn hopes to hitch down the Pan-American Highway to Argentina, where resides a rare and mythical giant sloth. His plan: to videotape the creature and sell the footage to a tabloid. His obstacle: the Darien Gap, an eighty-mile Panamanian swamp that interrupts the route.

Of course, Lyn is no stranger to obstacles. He has no money (he lamely fidgets with a crumpled dollar bill pulled from his pocket until the bar tab is paid), no family (“When things get shitty, walk away,” his father used to say, and so he did), and no girlfriend (“That word commitment—I keep seeing mental institutions”). Far from being a hero, Lyn is a weaselly moocher; he would be a professional opportunist if he wasn’t so lazy. One night at a party, he meets Polly Joy, a fashion designer with a Beacon Hill apartment. Frankly, Polly likes the challenge she sees in Lyn, and Lyn concedes that, with a roof over his head and someone to pay for his Jim Beam and Lucky Strikes, he could find happiness without running away. Months later, Argentina, the giant sloth, and the Darien Gap seem a long way off.

Director Brad Anderson has woven together a seamless blend of filmed exposition, Hi-8 video interviews with Boston’s socially dispossessed, and actual Super-8 home-movie footage of fleeting moments with his own father. An ingenious nonlinear plotline, combined with persuasive vérité performances, Lyn’s jaundiced, but poignant, narration, and a driving sound track by some of Boston’s hippest underground bands, provide us a glimpse into a hostile world where some measure of security comes from piecing together the jigsaw of a life which lies in the wake of divorce.

— Christian Gaines

Screening Details

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