Monday, October 5, 2009

Out of Africa

On Saturday I heard a portion of the John Barry soundtrack from the 1985 movie, Out of Africa and it pulled me right back into moments in the movie that held me captivated.  Such as when Denys takes Karen for a ride in his biplane over rivers, plains, mountains, canyons, running animals . . . . and  John Barry's music swells and we are treated to the incredible shot of thousands upon thousands of pink flamingos in the  water below. Breathtaking. 

At some point in that long scene Karen reaches her hand back from her seat in the front of the plane to find Denys' hand.  Such a tender, gentle moment, of which there are many in this movie.  I have found photos of some of my favorites - but first a little background that I found from biographer, Linda G. Donelson:

"The Danish writer Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen), twice nominated for the Nobel Prize, artfully related her efforts to run a coffee farm in East Africa between 1914 and 1931 in her book Out of Africa. She described her love for Africans and for farming and the tragic loss of her farm in the Great Depression. Her story is notable for its lyrical description of Africa and the larger than life friends she made there.

"Out of Isak Dinesen" is the first to show by detailed analysis the development of Karen Blixen's/Isak Dinesen's relationship with the legendary hunter Denys Finch Hatton. The friendship, which lasted thirteen years, was strongly influenced by the presence or absence of another Kenya settler, Berkeley Cole. Karen Blixen twice believed she was pregnant with Finch Hatton's child

She was married for a time to a lovable rogue, her cousin, Baron Bror Blixen, who gave her syphilis in their first year of marriage. Physically, he was the love of her life, while Finch Hatton became her romantic ideal.

Karen Blixen's medical history has been widely misunderstood. She suffered only briefly from syphilis, and many of her later medical problems are attributable to the arsenic she took for years as a tonic. She also suffered from panic attacks, vividly described in Out of Africa, and a life long fear of living alone."
(The above information taken from the jacket of book entitled, Out of Isak Dinesen, Linda G. Donelson, 1998.)

                                         Karen Blixen: "I had a farm in Africa."

 Meryl Streep portrays Karen Blixen, Robert Redford portrays Denys Finch Hatton

One of my favorite scenes is when while travelling together, Denys washes Karen's hair.  Such a gentle act of love . . .  Do you recall moments when the simplest act of knowing attention meant the world to you?

When Denys washes Karen's hair, he quotes from "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner". One line, "He prayeth well, who loveth well, both man and bird and beast," is inscribed on the real Denys Finch Hatton's gravestone.

Two other moving scenes are at the burial of Denys after he lost his life in a plane crash, and then again when Karen later visits Denys' hillside grave.  During their years of loving each other, Denys tried to teach Karen to be in the moment, that all they had was that moment; that she could not preordain their future;  that when he was with her there was no one else and no where else in the world for him;   that she could not own him or control him;   she could not understand . . . . . . and her need to control began to push them apart . . .  The last two lines she speaks at his graveside indicate that she finally understood - once it was too late.

At Denys' graveside Karen read the poem:

"The time you won
your town the race...
we cheered you
through the marketplace.
Man and boy stood cheering by...

as home we brought you,
shoulder high.
Smart lad,
to slip betimes away...
from fields where glory
does not stay.
Early though
the laurel grows...
it withers quicker than a rose.
Now you will not swell the rout...
of lads that wore their honors out.
Runners whom renown outran...
and the name died...
before the man.
And round that early laureled head...
will flock to gaze
the strengthless dead...
and find unwithered on its curls...
a garland...
briefer than a girl's."
"Now, take back the soul
of Denys George Finch Hatton...
whom You have shared with us.
He brought us joy...
and we loved him well.
He was not ours.
He was not mine."

When Karen is told that a lion pair have been seen lying on Denys' grave..... she says:
"Denys would have liked that."

Karen:  "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?"



  1. Sometimes I think we live in a parallel universe. I wrote about this movie last year, but no where near as well as you just did. Something about it, it stays in the mind. The film is an artist's canvas.

  2. Ah, my most favorite movie of all time...I could hear those words in Meryl's voice, close to tears, filled with grief and loss. My favorite too is when she visits his grave - a most gorgeous setting. In his poem The Layers, Stanley Kunitz says "How shall the heart be reconciled
    to its feast of losses?" And she had so many losses...and had so much given to her as well.

  3. "I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong hills." Saw the film, read the book, and it rings in my ears, too. I was privileged to be able to visit Karen Blixen's farm about 10 years ago when I was visiting a school in Kenya not far from the village that bears her name. The area, and the farm, are absolutely gorgeous.

    I do think it was a bit much, though, for Karen to write the words with which you ended your post. Africa is much, much too big and too much her own for a mere human passing through to leave any significant mark on her. I hiked to the top of the Ngong hills while there, and simply stood in awe of the place. It's breathtakingly beautiful.

  4. Sandra: Yes, there was something about that film - the story, the setting, the time period, the lovers, and clearly the cinematography. I didn't know you had posted on this too.

  5. Leslie: Yes - and perhaps it resonates because in the end, we will all have many losses to bear - and it informs and intrigues us to see how others bear theirs . . .

  6. Ginger: Oh, I envy you having been there. I totally agree with the narcissistic element evident in Karen's words (last para. of my post). I think the answer to each of her questions is 'no' for the reasons you describe.

    I suppose it was her longing to have left a small impression . . . that's the best 'spin' I can put on those words. :)

  7. Oh now I have to go and watch that movie again! It was so long ago and such a great movie! Worth re-watching!

  8. "Out of Africa" was a beautiful and memorable film; but I never read Isak Dinesen's book. Now I think I have missed something of importance.

    However, that is easily corrected.

    I also envy Ginger!

    Thank you for this post Bonnie!

  9. Hi Bonnie,
    I loved the movie Out of Africa. One of the greatest movies of all time.

  10. Lorac: Oh, it is well worth a second and third viewing. I have watched it several times and find something I did not notice previously each time.

  11. Barry: You have a new avatar - very nice! Yes, I think Blixen wrote several books (as Dinesen) - you will have a choice - unless it is specifically Out of Africa you want to read.

  12. How beautiful. I'm so glad you shared this Bonnie. This is a film I have never seen and I've never read anything written by or about Isak Dinesen although have often thought I would. I know exactly what I'm going to be doing later today!

  13. The cinematography, the acting, the writing, the music...everything about this movie was so well done. It is and always will be one of my favorites. I have never read the book but certainly after reading this, would enjoy picking it up. And yes, there is nothing like a simple gesture of love such as washing the hair that speaks volumes.

  14. One of my favorite movies! I always am moved to tears in the part of the airplane ride..especially when she reaches for matter how many times I see that part it always takes me by surprise..I did not enjoy the book as much... her concept of the hunt..killing game for sake of killing escaped me and clouded my image of who I thought she was...but..seperate from that she was an amazing and unique person.

  15. Hi Bonnie, that was a beautiful elegiac tribute to Karen Blixen. I adored that movie, and I love how you built this chronicle. I happened to post a picture of her home where she wrote out of Africa in Denmark /that sounds funny!/ (my post dated 9/2/09). xxox

  16. I did it about a year ago and in a different context. About favorite movies and this one is firmly on my list. You did a much better post on it. Brought it right up to the forefront of my memory.

  17. I loved that film. My mother-in-law is a fan of Robert Redford. She would like to see this for sure!

  18. I saw the movie a long, long time ago. After reading this, it makes me want to see it all over again. Thanks for that.

  19. Wonderful movie and musical of my favourites :)

  20. That is one of my all time favorite movies, and the music as well -- and those are my favorite scenes, too -- now I want to watch it again!

  21. I am a huge movie the period pieces. I am also a huge fan of good soundtracks. I will have to admit..I have never seen this movie - how I missed this one I am clueless..but I have. Am off to order it on netflix.....But your post was wonderful hon!! Sarah

  22. Hi Bonnie

    Yes you have done this film and the book and of course the actors full justice with your post.. I remembered little of the actual movie so am glad for all the snippets you have provided...but the music...I have played so often...that swelling tide of emotion...just wonderful ...

    I wonder if the movie's impact also has something to do with our ages when we saw it...
    I am going to hire it out again and see...

    thanks Bonnie

    Happy days

  23. Very well written review. I've never seen this film, but, now I know I should. So bring out the pop corn, fire up the wood stove, let the rains come...turn on the DVD. :-) Thanks.

  24. Bonnie,
    I loved this movie when I viewed it years ago. There was such a peacefulness about it. The music and the scenery were stunning! Thank you for your review. It's a movie we will remember to watch again down the road. =D

  25. i love that movie...must go find it and watch it again. thanks for the reminder.

  26. OMG - cannot tell you how i love out of africa - i have quotes from it on my blogs - love love this post!!! meryl streep has never made a bad anything!!! nor robert!!! again, great great post - have a wonderful remainder of the day! jenean

  27. Bonnie,
    Thank you for stopping by my blog. I am happy to find your most heartfelt site. Today's post on home remedies, something I am esp. passionate about (since I am a holistic sort of gal) and then this dear post on Isak Denison and the film....both are medicine for the soul. The hot water bottle reminded me of my grandmother who definitely believed in the curative power of those! And photos of such cinematic beauty from Out of Africa. They take the breath away. I appreciate each. I will return... Blessings to you...

  28. I am late as usual but I enjoyed reading your post on Isak Dinesen so much. Out of Africa is one of my favorite movies. I saw it many times – once when in Ethiopia I turned on the TV and this was the film playing that night – I loved watching it while in Africa, even though it was not Kenya. I visited her home in Denmark and walked to her small grave in the back. There was a lone red rose there and I took some pictures – with my old film camera. Almost each room had a flower arrangement, the type she liked to make. If my photos are not too bad and can be scanned, I shall make a post on her house some day.

  29. I've seen the movie several times - during my pre-love life era, in my mid-love life era & recently (post-love life era)...I'm currently 2/3's into her novel, & have fallen completely in love with Karen as a person, a writer, an artist, & anthropologist (observing & describing in detail, other cultures, customs), ie, the Kikuyu, the Masai, the Somalis, etc. So I've written a poem in her honor:

    "To Karen"

    My thoughts of you absorb my mind
    I always enjoy your space and time
    For through the sadness and the cheer
    Your thoughts are forever so close and dear
    I'll always remember the things big and small
    I'll always remember everything,
    And never nothing at all

  30. I happen to live in Karen, a Nairobi suburb named after the writer; apparently her coffee estate used to be here. Most of it is now covered in bush as well as upmarket homes of some of the Kenya's elite. Sad thing is that most inhabitants here, especially the young generation have no idea about the origins of the name of the estate. I watched the movie for the first time this year, and I must say it does a good job of hiding some prejudices that are evident in the book (it's easy to pick them out as an African) perhaps because the movie was made as a love story, not as an autobiography. Although I was uncomfortable with the characterization of Kikuyus in the film, I thought that Meryl did a splendid job in her role, and the movie spurred me to look for all her other movies because I came to liked her a lot after watching her performance.


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