March 10, 2014

"Out Of Africa" - An Epic Romance Between Karen Blixen And Africa

It took me 3 steps to fully enter the world of Karen Blixena poster, the music, and the video (of the movie).

It was 1980s. I was still in college back in China. Rumor said that Hollywood just produced another masterpiece, Out of Africa. I liked the name, though I didn't know why. Soon I saw the poster of  Karen (Meryl Streep) and Denys (Robert Redford) sitting on African plain. The harmony between the characters and nature was exotic and almost heavenly beautiful. Since then I knew I would love this movie. Later, I had chance to listen the soundtrack of the movie from audio tape (fancy technology!). The music was spectacular and it instantly made the movie more fascinating to me. Finally, I got chance to watch the whole movie in video. I still remember that I had "luxury" to watch it twice in a raw. I was totally overwhelmed.

My "obsession" with this movie has multiple reasons: the breathtaking African scenery, spectacular music, outstanding acting and story, exotic African culture, etc.. All of these elements were beautifully woven together. The cinemagraph and soundtrack of the movie were the most astonishing and up until today, they still remain as my favorite. Though the story line may not be everybody's cup of tea, it is definitely mine. The extraordinary life experience of Blixen, her adventurous spirit, independent personality, perseverance during hardship, all built up the rich aroma of my "cup of tea".

And the romance: Denys Finch Hatton, Blixen's friend and lover in real life, played by Robert Redford. From the first moment Karen meets him on the train to Kenya, Denys exhibits a wild nature, as if himself is an unseparable part of African wildness. I have to admit, Redford's role in this movie is the most handsome male figure among all men I saw in both movies and real life (Yes, very subjective!). He appeared to be perfectly physically fit and spiritually charming. He is too wild to tame, too beautiful to possess, even too ideal to pursue. Yet Blixen tried, succeeded, and still failed at the end, because ultimately, as she puts in the film: "He was not ours, he was not mine." Denys, as handsome as he is, belongs to Africa, to the wild nature and the spirit of Eagle and Lion.

Despite of the beauty or the handsomeness of Denys (or Redford), the true profoundness of this film lies all in Karen Blixen herself. Driving by her willful nature, she comes to Africa with ambition. She has her enterprise - coffee plantation. She teaches local natives English, educates them with European culture. She also help local natives with her knowledge in medicine, earns their trust and love. She becomes the owner and the mistress of her world. However, as Denys puts, "What exactly is yours?... We are not owners here, ... We are just passing through." As if he is a prophet, Karen indeed loses everything at the end. Even at the moment she could had Denys again, she loses him again. At the end of movie, she says farewell to his servant, by then her only friend, and goes back to Denmark alone with nothing, except her memory.

Blixen's memory of Africa is almost as infinite as Africa herself. It was there she faced challenge of wildness, of different culture; it was there she saw suffering of the poors, the cruelty of war; it was there she met the despair of life, also experienced the passion of true love; it was there, Denys took her in plane, flew above cloud, let her have "a glimpse of the world through God's eye". Yet in the end, it was in every beautiful moment she lived that she wishes she had left her marks, so Africa could remember her, in the same way as she remember Africa:

If I know a song of Africa, of the giraffe and the African new moon lying on her back, of the plows in the fields and the sweaty faces of the coffee pickers, does Africa know a song of me? Will the air over the plain quiver with a color that I have had on, or the children invent a game in which my name is, or the full moon throw a shadow over the gravel of the drive that was like me, or will the eagles of the Ngong Hills look out for me?


Thanks Karen for passing along your memory!



You may also like: Memoir at the Foot of Ngong Hill - Isak Dinesen's "Out Of Africa"


8 comments:

  1. A hauntingly beautiful movie. The closing lines which you quote, yunyi, are so powerful and moving. We leave so little impression on nature, on the great mystery, but what an impression it leaves on us.

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    1. yes, marty. nature is our mighty beautiful mother.

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  2. What a coincidence, Yun! I too was in college when the movie hit my city! It's a beautiful, beautiful movie.

    PS: Have you seen 'The Ghost and the Darkness'? It is also set in Africa. Nothing like 'Out of Africa' but I just loved this one too.

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    1. indeed!
      No, have not seen that one. One catch it later :-)

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  3. Your review of "Out of Africa" really captures its timeless yet ephemeral essence. The music really is phenomenal and the landscape breathtaking. Such a fantastic love story. Now I want to watch it again!

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    1. Thanks Kris! I watched total 7 times!

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  4. Yun, I love this post and it’s one of the best reviews of “Out of Africa” that I have ever read. You have beautifully summarized the heart of the story of one of my all-time favorite movies. The cinematography of the vast expanse of Africa was breathtaking and the music was so fittingly stirring. The romance between Karen and Denys was so beautiful and so bittersweet, yet perfect. That it’s based on the true story of Karen Blixen’s extraordinary life makes it even better. There was real chemistry in the film between Robert Redford and Meryl Streep. Yes, Redford as Denys Finch Hatton was “perfectly physically fit and spiritually charming,” I could not have said it better!

    I really like your assessment that the “true profoundness of this film lies all in Karen Blixen herself.” She was a remarkable woman and I greatly admired her strength, her strong will and determination. I think Meryl Streep was the perfect actress to play the role. I love the haunting passage you quoted at the end. I think Africa will know a song of her because her story is her song of Africa, her love for the land, for the people, and the man she loved who said, “We are not owners here, we are just passing through.” So true.

    Thank you for video clip. That’s one of my favorite scenes in the movie, along with the hair washing scene on the African plain.

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    1. Madilyn thanks for your kind words. You are absolutely right that Meryl Streep was the perfect actress for this role. I actually was surprised that she did not win Oscar for the best actress, as she was truly the "heart" of this masterpiece. I also could feel the "real chemistry in the film between Robert Redford and Meryl Streep". Yes, the flying scene is definitely my favorite, along with many other parts. I just love everything about this movie!

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