Out Of Africa (1985), or The Beauty Of Nature

8 12 2009

Out of Africa is one of the best films I’ve seen to come out of the 1980s. It is a tour de force in acting, directing, substance, and style. I came in expecting a big Hollywood drama and came out feeling enriched and renewed. It is a mesmerizing experience to go through, and once I was finished, I felt actually very good. That is the way I should feel after watching a good drama, like I had an emotional catharsis and my head was cleared. After watching so many movies, it’s easy to become jaded, but out of Africa proved to me that no matter how many movies you watch, there’s something moving and powerful about the medium that a really good film transcends all walks of life and hits you square in the emotional causeway of your heart. Out of Africa is such a film for me.

It takes place in the beginning of the 20th century, where a woman named Karen is taken to the beautiful and unforgiving plains of Africa to start a new life with her blue-blooded husband to start a large dairy farm.The marriage is largely a sham, mostly for convenience, and things begin to tense as the dairy farm plan is scrapped and they end up trying for a coffee farm instead. And even when she thinks she might be starting to grow affections toward him, he learns that he has been unfaithful to her, shattering her fragile emotional bridge with him. He regresses into his only solace on the dark continent by hunting game, and she begins to seek emotional comfort elsewhere in the form of local big-game hunter Denys. He is caring, kind, and a handsome fellow to boot, and an affair begins between them that ignites a passion inside her heart. But can she tame his wild heart and start a meaningful relationship with him? Or is Denys too much of a free spirit to leave his carefree life behind?

Out of Africa is a very Caucasian-centric story, and I think that can be a problem for a lot of movies. I don’t want to hear about the plight of the white man in the dark continent; the African has his own story to tell, after all. But I think it can be forgiven this fact due to its sheer love of the continent and its people. Sydney Pollack obviously had a great deal of emotions about Africa in his heart, and this was a great chance to express them. He captures so well the earthy loveliness that the Serengeti provides, the plains teeming with life, the people humble and beautiful, the world staggering and humbling. Africa is really, for me, the main attraction here, because Pollack captures it so well. When the sun begins to hang low over the sweltering horizon, and the night threatens the world with its untamed ferocity, the setting is absolutely perfect for the humans to emerge from their cooled burrows and make their drama.

Meryl Streep shines as the exuberant Karen, caught between two men, two continents, and two lives. This is really a career-defining performance that can’t really be summed up in a review this small, but I will say that her portrayal of a woman in emotional conflict is divine. The subtleties in her face and the soft wording of the lines point to a dichotomy that splits her completely in half. The Meryl Streep slow breakdown rule is in effect here, and over the course of this film, she experiences an emotional devastation that is truly something to behold. Robert Redford, in another career-defining role, plays Denys like he was playing himself, even though to a small extent he probably is. He is such a natural at this role, the debonair huntsman. I felt like I was watching something perhaps I should not have, a special moment between two lovers, when I watched these two together, and it was these moments when these two actors united, that touched my heart deeply and made me feel very alive and electric. Although there has to be a 3rd wheel in every drama film, and that’s where Klaus Maria Brandauer comes in as Karen’s husband. He isn’t an evil man by any means, but he is an irresponsible fool who seems to fuck up his life, and all the lives around him with his bad investment choices, his laziness, and his syphilis (!!!). Brandauer plays this character with a roguishness that is just what he needed; he’s foolhardy and a little stupid, but he won’t usually do anything to get himself hurt. A perfect foil to Denys’s and Karen’s love.

I could go on all day about Out of Africa. Much like Karen, I feel like I’m discovering myself cinematically for the first time all over again. It’s an epic romance set in a gorgeous country, and I could not love it more. It’s probably the best Hollywood film I’ve seen since The Curious Case of Benjamin Button earlier this year. It’s a good reminder that every now and then, they don’t just mess everything up over there. I give Out of Africa 10 syphilitic coffee barons out of 10! My highest recommendation!

Come back tomorrow, when we discuss everyone’s favorite twin movie, Dead Ringers! Until then!!!