directors Daniel Geller, Dayna Goldfine
The documentary The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden tells one of those stories that researchers and documentarians might seek out for a lifetime and never find. The world is indeed a wild place and the strangest stories have actually happened, the type that daunt fiction but are all the more compelling in their actuality. If anything, it’s quite amazing that this story hasn’t been told before.
Actually, it was, sort of, twice, at least, in the memoirs of two of the surviving players in this strange narrative.
This goes back to the 1930’s, to Germany, and in particular to Friedrich Ritter, a physician, inspired by Nietzsche, who takes up with his lover, Dore Strauch, to abandon their families and civilization and to find or create their own Eden. Their Eden is found on a small island of the Galapagos, off the coast of Ecuador, famed for Charles Darwin’s research and writings. It’s utterly uninhabited by man and they set out to tame their little piece of the Earth.
Only they are not perfectly happy. Nor after a short while are they alone.
Another German family lands on the island, this one comprised of a far more conventional husband, wife, and child, who though motivated by similar desire to escape into isolation, are not the radicals that Ritter and Strauch strive to be and by their very appearance there, ruin the isolation.
Only they are not the only arrivals. Not long after Wittmer family establishes itself, yet another group of people land. This group belongs to the Baroness Von Wagner and her two male companions. Educated and urbane, the Baroness in every other way profanes the isolation with her bombastic personality, her flash for publicity, and her claims to the island itself. Not to mention her plans to build a big tourist hotel there.
Here on the island of Floreana, there are less than a dozen souls, yet the enmity and animosity among them is vivid and deep, despite their idealistic intentions and their mostly shared nationality.
From this setting, two will disappear, never to be heard from again. The prime suspect tragically dies in his attempt to flee the island. And the whole thing comes to a rather abrupt ending with another death and suspicions of poisoning.
I’ll be shocked if this doesn’t turn into a more typically narrative feature film. It’s so ripe.
The documentary features voices of actors reading from the writings of many of the players in the story, their own words. There is interesting archival footage of the people as well, for their outpost was notorious for lots of false reasons, like projected nudism and wildness. And the film-makers interview descendants of the people and other settlers, some who have more direct connection to the story of the 1930’s, others who are simply representative of the craved isolation from society that drove people to abandon everything to find a hidden nowhere.
This is one of the aspects that makes the film all that more interesting. It’s a social study, really, of people on the fringe, but it’s also an emblem of the fading isolation of the globe. How rapidly Floreana went from zero population, except for iguanas and tortoises and the like to human drama and tragedy. It’s now a tourist destination, one that doesn’t require the sacrifices and risks taken 80 years ago, emphasizing the ever-shrinking world.
The documentary is well-done, giving a good background and context to the events and the characters. It’s juicy as you will find and intriguing and interesting as you could want.