Out of Africa (1985)

It is hard to watch a movie like Out of Africa with such an unsympathetic protagonist.  That protagonist would be Karen Blixen (Meryl Streep), whose autobiography this movie is based on.  When the movie begins, we find that Karen has been trying to sleep her way into being a baroness. But once the baron has his way with her for a while, he tires of her and reneges on his promise to marry her. So, she turns to his brother Bror (Klaus Maria Brandauer), who she knows does not love her, and offers him a deal: if he marries her, she gets to be a baroness, and he gets access to her money. He accepts, and they leave Denmark and go to Africa to start a vanity farm in the year of 1913.

Having made her Faustian bargain, she starts right off being a sourpuss about the whole thing. You know, acting as if she is being neglected, as if her husband doesn’t love her, especially when he feels free to do as he pleases. As he explains to her, she may have bought the title, but she did not buy him. Admittedly, he is a bit of a jerk, but isn’t that what you would expect from a man who would marry a woman for her money? After a while, we start to like her, but every time something bad happens, as when Bror gives her syphilis, we think, “Well, that’s what you get for marrying a man who doesn’t love you.” She gets the Salvarsan cure, but there is no indication that Bror is treated for the disease, and we have to wonder if she continues to have sex with him, especially since she becomes upset by his continued infidelities. Fed up with him, she tells him to move out of the house and get a place in town. But she does not want a divorce, because then she wouldn’t have anybody. Huh?

She eventually starts having an affair with Denys (Robert Redford), who is a big game hunter. Denys is a believer in free love, figuring he can continue to come and go as he pleases, which hurts her feelings, because she has fallen in love with him and wants him to spend more time with her. He is surprised and dismayed by her attitude, but I could have told him that would happen. Exasperated, she tells him that everything has a price. Well, she ought to know. Denys is not willing to pay the price of being domesticated, so they split up, and he eventually dies in an airplane crash.

As for that all that money she had, between the cost of supporting her husband and that of trying to grow coffee in Africa, she ends up so broke she has to mortgage the farm. Everything depends on her bringing in a good crop.  Then, right after the crop is harvested, it is destroyed in a fire. When asked if she had insurance, she responds, “That’s for pessimists.” As I said, it is hard to have sympathy for her. So, she loses the farm and has to go back and live with her family, which she admits she has nearly bankrupted. She removes the white gloves from a servant’s hands, saying that was a mistake, and in saying goodbye to another servant, asks him to call her by her first name. I guess that means she finally realizes that being a baroness was just so much vanity. A lot of people like this movie, presumably because Africa is filmed so beautifully, and because her lover Denys is filmed so beautifully. But if she had stayed in Denmark and not wasted her money buying a farm and a title, she could have led a financially secure life and possibly found a man without a title who loved her and wanted to marry her.

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