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Movie review: 'Darwin'

The film resonates with understated power and deep resonance for a distinct species of people in Death Valley.

August 19, 2011|By Kevin Thomas

"Darwin" is a beautiful, elegiac work with unexpected impact and meaning.

A trip through the Mojave Desert inspired documentarian Nick Brandestini to seek out a "living ghost town" to discover why people would reside in such a place and to learn their stories. He found it in Darwin, a once-rowdy Death Valley silver mining town that in 1877 boasted a population of 3,500 but soon went bust.

With a population of 35, Darwin exists without a government, church or children. Its only neighbor is a military base, and for its water supply the town depends on an aging gravity-fed waterline that descends from the mountains where top-secret weapons testing takes place. Darwin has a makeshift look and feel, yet a number of its residents have comfortable homes amid vast desert vistas.

The time Brandestini and his colleagues spent winning the trust of the locals has paid off with a film of understated power and deep resonance that touches upon universal themes of survival, self-discovery, community and the paradoxical nature of civilization itself, which can at once seem enduring yet also quite fragile.

Over the course of the film, Brandestini reveals these people as individuals who have come to terms with themselves. One interesting side note: One of the residents of Darwin is Michael Laemmle, a one-time seafarer related to Universal Studios founder Carl Laemmle, as are the owners of Laemmle Theaters.


"Darwin." No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes. At Laemmle's Sunset 5, West Hollywood.

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