Gods Must Be Crazy, The (1980)

“Xi had never seen anything like this in his life — it looked like water, but was harder than anything else in the world…”

Gods Crazy Poster

Synopsis:
When a Coke bottle is dropped from a plane in the middle of the Kalahari desert, it disrupts the lives of a peaceful tribe of bushmen, so the man who found it (N!xau) volunteers to “drop it off the face of the earth”. Meanwhile, a bumbling biologist (Marius Weyers) attempts to woo a beautiful young teacher (Sandra Prinsloo), whose students have been kidnapped by a band of revolutionary terrorists; it’s up to N!xau to help save the day.

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Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary praises this unexpected “cult favorite” from South Africa as a “surefire crowd-pleaser”, calling it a “rare picture that will appeal to to everyone in the family.” These days, The Gods Must Be Crazy — which was followed by a popular sequel in 1989 — comes across as enjoyable in parts but ultimately uneven; the sequences of slapstick violence between guerrilla rebels and the Burundian government are particularly interminable (and not at all amusing). In addition, knowing as we do now that the Bushmen (who Peary naively — though understandably — believes are simply “playing themselves”) were actually asked to strip their clothes and pretend to live like their “noble” ancestors detracts from the film’s innate charm; we have to work a bit harder to believe in the veracity of their pastoral existence.

With that said, there’s plenty to recommend in The Gods Must Be Crazy, which is certainly one of the best comedies to emerge from Africa. Director Jamie Uys does a particularly fine job highlighting the hypocrisy of “civilization” in contrast with tribal living; the pseudo-scientific anthropological voiceover — though overused in far too many films — works surprisingly well here. In addition, the lead performances by both bumbling Marius Weyers (who Peary likens to Jacques Tati) and N!xau (adorably “innocent”) are marvelous — whenever they’re on-screen, the story sparkles. My favorite scene is probably the one in which N!xau watches sexy Sandra Prinsloo undressing, and we hear his hilariously disparaging thoughts via voiceover (“She was as pale as something that had crawled out of a rotting log…”); this is the best cinematic example I’ve seen so far of how beauty — along with so many other values — is indeed culturally relative.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • N!xau as Xi
    Gods Crazy Xi
  • Marius Weyers as a hopelessly clumsy biologist
    Gods Crazy Weyers
  • Weyers attempting to navigate his brakeless car across country roads
    Gods Crazy Car
  • Beautiful cinematography of Kalahari landscapes
    Gods Crazy Landscape
  • The often hilarious “faux-anthropologist” narration — as when N!xau sees the sexy, slender, half-dressed Prinsloo for the first time:

    That morning, he saw the ugliest person he’d ever come across. She was as pale as something that had crawled out of a rotting log; her hair was quite gruesome, long and stringy and white, as if she was very old; she was very big — he’d have to take the whole day to find enough food to feed her.

Must See?
Yes, for its status as a long-running cult favorite. Discussed at length in Peary’s Cult Movies 3 (1988).

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2 Responses to “Gods Must Be Crazy, The (1980)”

  1. A bit of a tough call for me, really. I can be a cinema snob and sometimes remind myself that a film can be a must even if I don’t personally like it – as long as it works as a film. After its release, this became a surprise cult hit – so it obviously ‘worked’ for lots of people (and apparently still does) – but (as noted), I do find it too uneven to be enthusiastic about.

    I’m going to lean toward a grudging once-and-done must for two reasons: a) it can be seen as an important independent film since director Uys also wrote, produced, filmed and edited it – that alone is impressive; b) it’s unique-enough as a commercial export from South Africa.

    I do particularly like the first 20 minutes, which I think work well. (Who knew there could be so many uses for a Coke bottle?!) Once the film moves into its dual subplot – terrorists/awkward romance – the film becomes labored. The terrorist aspect is somewhat unnerving since it’s played both as realistic as well as for laughs; the romance is replete with such endless slapstick that you fairly want to scream ‘Ok, we get it, we get it, he’s nervous around women!’ (The endless trouble Weyers has with his vehicle also becomes tedious.)

    Ultimately, this movie frustrates me to almost no end. I saw it once years ago, have just seen it again – can’t imagine wanting to revisit it at any time.

  2. Many people I’ve spoken with — who saw TGMBC upon its release — are disappointed and/or outright offended when watching it now; it hasn’t aged well, and really isn’t all that funny. As you noted, however, its erstwhile appeal (and its uniqueness as a South African blockbuster) make it once-must viewing for all film fanatics. With that said, I have no desire at all to check out the sequel — despite N!xau’s appeal.

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