Out of Africa (1985)
Release Date: December 20th, 1985 MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Sydney Pollack Actors: Meryl Streep, Robert Redford, Klaus Maria Brandauer, Michael Kitchen, Malick Bowens, Michael Gough, Suzanna Hamilton
lthough the length of the film is oftentimes enough to keep casual viewers away, “Out of Africa” is a brilliant character study and a movingly bittersweet observation on happiness, wanting, and the standards of love. Perfectly cast (even if Pollack regular Redford borders on unconvincing) and with an unforgettable score by John Barry, the production is an epic, old-fashioned romance that unhurriedly builds vivid personas, paints beautiful settings (against the backdrop of a grandiose East Africa Protectorate), and tells a tale of timeless love and free spirits. With its historical positioning and fastidiousness, it recalls the magnificence of universally powerful dramas “Doctor Zhivago” and “Reds.” The jaw-dropping cinematography would win the Oscar for 1985, alongside the coveted Best Picture and Best Director trophies for Pollack.
In 1913, wealthy Danish woman Karen Dinesen (Meryl Streep) moves to Kenya (then under British control) to start a dairy with her former lover’s brother, Baron Bror Blixen (Klaus Maria Brandauer). It’s a marriage of convenience so that she doesn’t have to be alone and so that he doesn’t have to be penniless. But once they arrive, she quickly discovers that, aside from her dreamy dairy having been changed to an ill-advised coffee plantation, Bror is more interested in hunting and infidelity than mutual work and respect. She also realizes that she’s out of her element, but nevertheless manages to take in the beauty of the highlands.
Neighbor Berkeley Cole (Michael Kitchen) and his big-game hunting pal Denys Finch Hatton (Robert Redford) frequently join Karen for her storytelling and company. To keep herself occupied, Karen tends to her farm and the village of natives who work the fields, eventually building a simple school for the children and even aiding in the war (the First World War) that diverts the men. She eventually falls hopelessly in love with Denys, and although they never share beliefs on love and marriage, she finds temporary happiness. But a case of syphilis that leaves her barren, unsuccessfulness with her harvests, and bouts of loneliness regularly take her to the breaking point.
The music alone is enough to inspire emotional response for this sweeping tale of tragic affairs and battling wills. Karen is rattled by fate and jealousy, while her upbringing disallows an acceptance of Denys’ unconventional beliefs on freedom, romance, and restrictive wedlock. As he explains, she confuses “need with want.” His freedom can’t be tested with everyone else’s criterions for relationships and he’s more than willing to lose Karen to preserve his stance. The character development and scripting are considerable and thorough, crafting weighty roles worthy of the numerous accolades and nominations the movie would receive.
“Out of Africa” may be slow, but it’s worth the wait, as this in-depth character examination takes its time to establish settings, scenery, and events for significant audience investment – as well as faithfulness to the source material (the autobiographical book of the same name). Many might criticize its apparent failure at pacing and relatively uneventful plot (even thought the film went on to win the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay), but the attention to detail is awe-inspiring. Poetic and touching, the technical precision and artistry elevate this masterful yarn of a gifted storyteller to heartbreaking, stirring heights.
– Mike Massie