Out of Africa

4.5 / 5.0

Originally seen in the 1980's. Reviewed September 4, 2005.

One of the classic chick-flicks. Like other movies of the same genre (e.g. A Room With A View, Breakfast at Tiffany's, The Bridges of Madison County), the movie is centered on a woman who is smart, strong, independent, beautiful, flawed, utterly fascinating, and a total friggin' mystery to me. Probably a mystery to all men. I suppose that's why these movies are called "chick-flicks."

The movie opens with Karen Blix (Meryl Streep) deciding to marry a friend, rather than face the humiliation of being a single woman in a society that is less than kind to spinsters. The couple moves to Africa to start a dairy farm. The dairy farm becomes a coffee plantation, but does it matter? Neither person has the slightest clue what they want from life, so what difference does it make where they live or what they do? The husband simply runs off to chase women and booze, while Karen tries to remake her plantation into her perfect little fantasy world in the middle of Kenya. Then she gets to know Denys (Robert Redford), an untameable and free-spirited man with whom she falls madly in love. In the Director's Commentary for this film, Syndney Pollack notes that this film was about possession, both in the main line text with Denmark trying to possess Kenya, and in the subtext with Karen trying to possess Denys. The tension provided by this plot is captivating. It is easy to find yourself being both impressed by - and disappointed with - Karen and Denys. I don't want to write too much more about the plot line, as I'm sure I would spoil it for those who haven't watched the movie, but I found the plot absolutely believable. Several critics of this movie found the pacing a bit slow (the movie is three hours long), but I felt the movie was paced appropriately for the plot.

My single complaint about this film is that I never liked Meryl Streep's accent. The director's commentary says that Redford was supposed to have a British accent, and was willing to try it, but Pollack decided that nobody would believe Redford with a British accent. I'm surprised he thought Streep could pull off playing a Dane. Unless an accent is done perfectly, I prefer that it not be done at all. There were a few scenes where I found Streep's imperfect accent interfering with my ability to fully absorb myself in the film.

The cinematography in Out Of Africa was simply fantastic, and deserved a better viewing than my 27" TV. I can only imagine how wonderful this movie looks on a big screen. The soundtrack won quite a few awards, but didn't do much for me. For the most part, I never noticed it.

This movie would probably make my "Top 100 films of all time" list, but not my top 10. It was definitely worth the time to see.

Gentlemen: Make sure you invite a special lady to see it with you. She'll swoon. She'll think you're deep. Her head will be filled with visions of taming your wild self. You'll score.

Ladies: Unless your man is a cinema buff, don't drag him to see this one. He'll see that you want to change him. He'll probably be asleep by the second hour. If by some miracle he does manage to stay awake, he'll be left with fantasies of running off to Africa to hunt big game… but he won't be thinking about bringing you along for the trip.

Favorite quotes (possibly spoilers) from my September 4, 2005 viewing:

Denys:It's OK to take a chance… as long as you're the only one who pays.
Karen:I had a compass from Denys. "To steer by", he said. But it later came to me that we navigated differently. Perhaps he knew, as I did not, that the Earth was made round so that we would not see too far down the road.
Denys:You do like to change things, don't you?
Karen:For the better, I hope. I want my [list of stuff]
Denys:"My [this]", "My [that]", "My [other]". That's a lot to own.
Karen:I have paid for everything I own.
Denys:And what is it that is yours? We're not owners here, we're just passing through.
Karen:Is life really so damn simple for you?
Denys:Perhaps I ask less of it than you.
Karen:I don't believe that at all.
Denys:Early day tomorrow, why don't you get some sleep?
Karen:And what happens tomorrow?
Denys:I have no idea. [The next day, after playing a Gramophone near wild baboons] Think of that… Never a man-made sound, and then Mozart!
Karen:Do you really prefer [animals] to people?
Denys:Sometimes. They don't do anything half-heartedly. Everything's for the first time… Only man does it badly. Only man tires of going through it.
Karen:[After spending the night with Denys] I need to know how to think about this.
Denys:You confuse need with want, you always have.
Karen:My God, in the world you would make, there would be no love at all!
Denys:Or the best kind, the kind we wouldn't have to prove.
Denys:You've ruined it for me, you know?
Karen:Ruined what?
Denys:Being alone.