Out of Africa (1985)

Out of Africa (1985)

“I don’t want to live someone else’s idea of how to live; don’t ask me to do that.”

A Danish woman (Meryl Streep) marries a Swedish baron (Klaus Maria Brandauer) simply for an opportunity to move to Kenya and help run a coffee plantation, but soon finds herself estranged from womanizing Brandauer and madly in love with an adventurous big game hunter (Robert Redford) who dips in and out of her life.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Africa
  • Historical Drama
  • Infidelity
  • Marital Problems
  • Meryl Streep Films
  • Robert Redford Films
  • Romance
  • Strong Females

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary refers to Sydney Pollack’s Oscar-winning adaptation of “the 1937 memoir of aristocratic Danish author Isak Dinesen (the pen name of Karen Blixen) and Judith Thurman’s 1982 biography, Isak Dinesen: The Life of a Storyteller” as “graceful, elegant, [and] sensually photographed.” He notes that Streep’s performance as “Blixen during her years in Kenya, 1913-1931” is “multi-layered, unmannered, [and] Oscar-worthy” — though he fails to point out that her Danish accent is patchy at best (and, unlike her linguistic work in Sophie’s Choice, distracting at worst). He asserts that “while this is a romantic film,” he doesn’t “consider it a love story” given that “it’s primarily about a stubborn, moral woman who, without changing or compromising or causing changes, achieves accommodation… and is accepted and respected” by those around her, with “no conquest, no power play, no ultimatum, no game-playing or attempt to obtain pity.” He adds that “if you’re bored by the film or resent how the blacks are used to show how nice Karen is to the natives rather than as individuals with their own lives, then you’ll at least be awed by the wide-open, sun-drenched African veldt.”

Indeed, cinematographer David Watkin’s work here is simply stunning; it’s no wonder that this film “inspired a great increase in tourism in Kenya.” Meanwhile, I agree with Peary that “young girls could find worse role models than Streep’s Karen,” who is “a writer, runs a coffee plantation, is willing to work with her hands, fearlessly rides through hostile territory during a native uprising, lives alone (after she kicks out [Brandauer]), calmly shoots a charging lion:

… and is even willing to humble herself by dropping to her knees in public to beg for land for the [local] Kikuyus after she leaves Africa.”

However, I do fall into the camp of being troubled by the centering of a white female’s exploits in colonized Africa:

As much as Pollack and screenwriter Kurt Luedtke admirably humanize a number of the African individuals in Karen’s life, she’s ultimately the main focus, with Kenya itself primarily exoticized as a beautiful lifestyle alternative for colonizing Europeans.

Redford is fine and believable as Streep’s commitment-phobic lover:

… but Brandauer (naturally) steals the moments he’s in, playing a surprisingly sympathetic, straight-shooting philanderer who notoriously gave Dinesen syphilis (for which he at least apologizes sincerely).

How much one enjoys this film (beyond the visuals) will depend largely on your investment in Dinesen’s memoirs, which I suspect aren’t quite as widely read or discussed these days.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • David Watkin’s stunning cinematography

  • Meryl Streep as Karen (but not her accent)

Must See?
No, though of course most film fanatics will be curious to check it out given its Oscar-winning status.

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)


One thought on “Out of Africa (1985)

  1. Agreed; not must-see. In spite of its popularity when released (earning 227.5 million from a budget of 28 million), I wonder just how popular the film remains. It has always seemed to me (even though I hesitate ever tagging a work as such) a film designed as Oscar-bait.

    ~ which it proved to be, winning seven statues after 11 nominations. Yet I don’t find it a very inviting film (though that has nothing to do with the film being set in Africa). Pollack’s direction is fine, there’s terrific work by DP Watkin (as noted) and composer John Barry provided a lovely theme.

    But I agree that Kenya is “exoticized”. And I find Streep’s portrayal a cold one.

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