It’s based on real life, and it’s verisimilitude, but Out of Africa (1985) is by far the greatest dilemma I’ve had for a while. I originally watched it long ago, but coming right up to date, I’ve found myself encountering some fidgety problems of a sort. Let me see if you can get what these problems are from the plotline.
It starts with an “arranged” sort of marriage, where the key character, Karen Blixen (Meryl Streep), marries her best friend in Kenya in order to start a enterprise and business there, which turns out to be a coffee plantation, although Karen intended it to be a cow farm. Karen’s marriage is not based on love, but on a business deal.
However, when Karen meets the fine adventurer and hunter Denys Finch Hatton (Robert Redford), there’s a connection. Romance blossoms, but only after she gets a divorce from her husband Bror (Klaus Maria Brandauer).
For a Christian I believe this scenario has various problems. But as an artist I am awe struck.
The romance, and the language of the feminine, is the emotional pull of the film, which takes up quite a bit of space in the second half.
In a literary sense, Out of Africa is detached and aloof, but not all together distant. It has words and meanings that disappear almost casually, and moments lingering on sentences in the character’s mouths, but then comes back down to earth.
Blixen is literate herself, able to spin handsome tales to admiring male company, one being Finch Hatton. Finch Hatton is quite an intellectual in his own right, who can often challenge Karen on the philosophy of life and how to live it, as if well-read, or well thought through.
There’s a masculine, be that macho, side to the film. Redford’s character has masculine traits, such as when he tackles big game hunting in the wilds of Kenya.
Blixen watched nervously on in the wilds. But her own “masculine” side is sometimes in conflict with Finch Hatton’s, but resolved with a sense of unconditional acceptance of the other. These are sophisticated people.
Some mention should be made of Meryl Streep’s performance. When the Oscar nominations came out in 1986, Meryl Streep was nominated for the role. Streep had two acting Oscars already on her mantelpiece. She didn’t win as Karen Blixen and didn’t win again for another 26 years when she got a third one for The Iron Lady. Some may say that the Best Actress field was so good in 1986 that they all deserved the Oscar. Even so, the beauty of Streep’s performance is that she consumes her role as if disappearing in it, which many say is what Meryl Streep tends to do.
Klaus Maria Brandauer’s performance as Bror, simmers away, polished on the surface, and gives the viewer the capacity to empathize with him despite Bror’s shortcomings. Magnificent acting.
The production’s handsomeness showcases a wonderfully produced film in every department. Nuanced, poetical, and provides an emotional return on the viewer.
Romance and marriage
A film with Robert Redford and Meryl Streep in it would engage some curiosity in the audience, especially those expecting a fine romance, as the trailer suggested. This film is about the theme of what it takes for two people to love one another. But what of the question: what does it take for two people to love one another?
In another story, the couple may work their difficulties out, but Karen and Bror do not. Karen is after all a strong-willed, independent woman and Bror his own man, who are often in a battle of wills. But ultimately their marriage is a sham from the beginning.
The difference with Karen and Finch Hatton is that their relationship is more natural, and they can communicate despite both having their own minds. They are like joined by the African airs and landscapes that makes something good of their first encounter. While there’s various disagreements they can resolve their differences with communication and, of course, unconditional love, more faithful than the kind Bror supplied.
While Bror left Karen at times for affairs and flings, when Finch Hatton leaves on some job or errand, you know he’s coming back. Karen and Finch Hatton go deep, but Bror and Karen just skim the surface.Such an artistic film, deep, substantial, soulful even despite the surface literary gloss, but I am worried that I am recommending a film that contains some moral problems for me.
The moral problems with all of this are obvious to me. First, Karen and Bror marry on an insincere basis. The sacred institution is just a vehicle for running a business transaction in Africa. Karen marries her best friend as marriages usually go, but it’s not for love. Then, Bror, Karen’s husband, is a philanderer, with a string of women in his life. Karen and Finch Hatton’s romance lacks a marriage focus. Marriage is, therefore, not regarded with the same affinity as a Christian may. For many Christians, marriage should be upheld rather than demoted. When life happens, what is Karen left with? A memory of her lover, not husband.
Out of Africa therefore is a desirous but unfortunately morally dubious film, a film which I loved, but which leaves me with that uncomfortable feeling of ‘should I have even liked this?’
Published 2020, http://www.definitives.home.blog