Based on a true story, Out of Africa is about Danish baroness Karen Blixen (Meryl Streep) and what happens to her in colonial Kenya in the early part of last century.
There is a sense of real life in it. Understated and subtle is the notion that Karen and her husband Bror seem to be trying to get through the fog to find a meaningful life, of finding one’s place in the world, as if a couple of vulnerable orphans lost but spreading their wings.
In contrast, the unpredictable nature of life conflicts with the order one would like to keep, the imperfect world despite the life God intended, and Karen’s words at seeing her Kenyan coffee plantation burn down are a mention of the small details of life carrying some significance for good or for ill.
Those are the themes, the details are more down to earth. Karen married her best friend Bror (Klaus Maria Brandauer) in Kenya. But there is a strain in her marriage as Bror has infidelities coming left, right and center despite them trying to make a go of a coffee plantation in the African country.
Bror (Klaus Maria Brandauer) is preoccupied with several other ladies, while negotiating personal matters with Karen, usually unsuccessfully, but always with a compromise.
They end up divorced. Karen is already familiar with adventurer and hunter Denys Finch Hatton (Robert Redford), their friendship consists of sophisticated literary interchanges and meaningful glances and poses.
Karen is literary, 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.
He shows his masculine side when he tackles big game hunting in the wilds of Kenya. Blixen watches nervously on in the wilds. But her own "masculine" side is sometimes in conflict with Finch Hatton’s yet resolved with a sense of unconditional acceptance of the other. These are sophisticated people.
Romance blossoms after Karen gets her divorce.
Karen is a strong-willed, independent woman and Bror, her ex, his own man, who are often in a battle of wills. 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 is coming back. Karen and Finch Hatton go deep, but Bror and Karen just skim the surface.
Finch Hatton takes Karen Blixen on his plane–some magnificent aerial photography showcases the romance of the African landscape. By then it is more than a date, not that dates figure in this film’s world.
There is no sense that the filmmakers are endorsing the moral compromises that appear on the surface, it would not even be a consideration, or enter their mind that something immoral is happening in the story. Instead, the audience is shown the lives of people weaved together through circumstance, rather than expressing the moral dilemmas I might have with such a situation in real life.
In real life I am not even a spectator or observer on such a matter, I am just the guy who popped in and saw something, but I may guess the rest of it. In a movie, I watch the whole saga come alive before me like a believable illusion. This takes me into their lives for two hours. I should be left with an impression later, but this impression is how I felt about a movie, not real people living real lives.
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. The writer drops in lines that echo of deeper meaning and substance, the lines do not seem to have a connection to the whole, they linger there in casual connection.
The beauty of Meryl Streep’s performance as Karen Blixen is that she consumes her role as if disappearing in it, which many say is what Meryl Streep tends to do. Streep may be the best thing in Out of Africa but there are other reasons to admire it as a movie.
Meryl Streep had two acting Oscars already on her mantelpiece before she filmed Out of Africa. When the Oscar nominations came out in 1986, she was nominated for her role as Karen Blixen. She did not win and did not win again for another 26 years when she got another one for The Iron Lady in 2012. But some may say that the field was so good in 1986 that they all deserved the Oscar.
But when she is with Redford and he is putting on the charisma, you start to think, oh, he is a star and so is she. Redford has that effect on occasion, but mostly you would not notice.
Klaus Maria Brandauer’s performance as Bror, simmers away, polished on the surface, and gives the viewer the capacity to empathize with him, the production’s handsomeness, the literate sweep from a screenplay by Kurt Luedtke (based on the writings of Karen Blixen), the detail and well-developed characters. There are few lulls. I was taken into this movie’s cocoon. A tremendous effort, a film that’s focused and follows through on what’s been established, and a film of poetry, nuance and detail, delivered with a return on the viewer, and a film that says we always leave a mark, somehow.