(a “gotta go in to come out of” film review by Timothy J. Verret)
OUT OF AFRICA is a film about what we all have to do in our life’s journeys: We gotta go inside ourselves to come out of the places that either store the treasures we need or troubles that no longer serve us. For Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke (Danish author also known by her pen name, Isak Dinesen), her journeys were going into Africa, then coming out of Africa, then going back into Africa, and then coming out of Africa again, this time for good. Sometimes it takes many “gotta go in to come out of” journeys for us to heal. Sometimes this is the case, yes, but “gotta go in” ourselves to heal is ALWAYS the case!
Directed by Sydney Pollack, this film is beautifully sweeping as far as cinematography, even if it’s not exquisitely sweeping as far as an emotional landscape. Meryl Streep is brilliant as Karen, though Streep is always brilliant in every character she plays. Robert Redford plays her love interest, Denys, and although Denys’ dialogue strikes the chord of the film’s heart, Redford is underwhelming. Might a different actor been chosen, the emotional landscape might have been more sweeping. Denys helped Karen see something that many of us need to see: No one owns anything or anyone, not even ourselves. Denys could not be owned, though Karen tried her darndest to own him. Karen thought she owned her coffee plantation and the Kikuyu she tried to employ and educate, but Denys called her out on this with his declaration, “We’re just passing through.” Yes, we are ALL “just passing through” God’s Landscape, owning nothing or no one and, yes, not even ourselves. Karen even thought she owned Africa, until Denys gave her a glimpse through God’s Eye of what she thought she owned. This very scene was a scene that I had the pleasure of viewing in a movie theatre when I initially saw the film when it came out in 1985. I remember it like it was yesterday: The beautiful score began and showed the plane Karen and Denys were in and then, I kid you not, you could have heard a pin drop in the theatre when God’s Eye held all of us in that room spellbound. God intended for Karen to know that just as she viewed at that moment God’s nonhuman animals as precious, wild, and free, so did God intend her, and all of us in that room, to know the same thing. It was a moment in a movie theatre that was a defining moment in my “gotta go in myself to heal” life.
When Karen first “gotta go in” to Africa, she went there to marry her lover’s brother. When Karen “come out of” Africa, she had to be cured from syphilis. When Karen “gotta go in” the next time to Africa, it was to go in to finish what she started, particularly with Denys. When Karen “come out of” Africa for the next and last time, she went “out of Africa,” because she finished all she started, owning nothing she finished with, particularly with Denys. It’s this kind of “gotta go inside to come out of” that makes all our trips to Africa meaningful. But we don’t have to travel to Africa or anywhere to get this meaning, because the travel is an inner journey, travels of beautiful and brutal (BOTH) landscapes of our hearts and our minds. It’s travels of “test me, Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind” (Psalm 26:2). It’s a test (and a testimony) for examining how we own nothing and no one, not even our own hearts and our own minds. Only God owns these things. We’re “just passing through,” whether we are in Africa or whether we are in loneliness. I can’t begin to count how many times I have said that this loneliness of “just passing through” is simply because we are not “home” (Heaven) yet! Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke (Isak Dinesen) died on September 7, 1962; after “gotta go in to come out of” for the last time, Karen went “home” and is probably now watching all she didn’t own from God’s Eye.
The scenes where animals were hunted and/or killed in this film are one place I care not to “gotta go in to come out of.” One scene where lions killed some cattle was particularly disturbing to me, as this film was before technology could stage this through a computer without the actual event (and killing of nonhuman animals) taking place. Unless I’m wrong, those cattle were actually killed by lions, and no form of entertainment, I don’t care what it is, is worth this actual event of killing actual animals. It’s an observation I make now that I did not make when I first saw the film. I have to say I now take to “owning” very seriously the right to be a voice for God’s voiceless nonhuman animals.
Even with a not-too-sweeping emotional landscape, this film did get me near in the end in two scenes that examined my (God’s) heart and mind. When Karen was “going out of Africa” for the last time, Farah, a Somali headman hired by her husband, wanted to know if he could go where Karen was going. She told him that very much like he would make a fire so that she could find him on safari, she would make a fire for him. Farah responded, “You must make this fire very big, so that I can find you.” That tore me up. The second scene was the very ending, when news got back to Karen after “gotta go in to come out of” Africa that a lion and lioness were often seen (spoiler alert!) lying on Denys’ grave where they had a spectacular view of Africa. That tore me up, too, and it was very difficult for me not to recall this Bible verse: The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them (Isaiah 11:6).
We “gotta go in to come out of” who and what we do not own. We travel, yes, but we own not this travel. We love, yes, but we own not this love. God owns all of this! Just the other day, I was talking to a friend and we were talking about travels. I mentioned I always wanted to go to Africa on a safari to see God’s nonhuman animals precious, wild and free. His response was, “you’re gonna get eaten alive!” No I won’t, for how I appreciate God’s nonhuman animals precious, wild and free is exactly how God’s nonhuman animals appreciate me precious, wild and free. And even if I am eaten alive, I will be tasted as a perfectly seasoned dish, i.e., no ownership of anything or anyone, not even me.
PLEASE NOTE: OUT OF AFRICA won 7 Academy Awards (Oscars), including Best Picture and Best Director, Sydney Pollack, but THE COLOR PURPLE was clearly and quite obviously The Best Picture of that year. I thought Steven Spielberg was nominated for Best Director of THE COLOR PURPLE that year, but he wasn’t. Like WTF?! (what the forgiveness?!). Spielberg did, however, win the well-deserved Director’s Guild of America (DGA) that year.