Meryl Streep’s performance as Danish baroness Karen Blixen in Out of Africa (1985) is outstanding. The film is based on the memoirs of Karen Blixen (her pen name was sometimes Isak Dinesen), when she owned a coffee plantation with her husband. Two of Blixen’s biographies are used as source material for the film as well.
Early in the film, Blixen moves to colonial Kenya and marries her best friend there, Bror (Klaus Maria Brandauer).
In line with memoir writing, themes are expressed to convey the mood and feeling of the author. The couple try to get through the fog to find a meaningful life, which is thematically interesting of one’s place in the world. Yet the existences of Karen and Bror, as well as Denys Finch Hatton, who becomes Karen’s lover, reveal the unpredictable nature of life despite the order one would like to keep. There’s a theological tone in this, that of an imperfect world despite the life God intended. which appears in Karen’s words at seeing her Kenyan coffee plantation burn down.
She also mentions that the small details of life carry some significance for good or for ill.
Despite doing business together as husband and wife, there is a strain in Karen and Bror’s marriage because Bror has infidelities coming left, right and centre while they try to have a life together and make a go of a coffee plantation. Enter big game hunter Denys Finch Hatton (Robert Redford).
Karen gets the love she has missed from her husband in a romance with Finch Hatton which is fully blown after Karen’s divorce. Finch Hatton takes Karen on his plane–some magnificent aerial photography showcases the romance of the African landscape. By then it’s more than a date.
Streep consumes her role as Karen Blixen, but when she’s with Redford and he’s putting on the charisma, you start to think, oh, he’s a star and so is she. Redford has that effect on occasion.
When the Oscar nominations came out in 1986, Meryl Streep was nominated for the role. Streep had two acting Oscars already on her mantelpiece. She didn’t win as Karen Blixen and didn’t win again for another 26 years when she got a third one for The Iron Lady.
Some may say that the Best Actress field was so good in 1986 that they all deserved the Oscar. Even so, the beauty of Streep’s performance 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 well.
Brandauer’s performance as Bror, which might have got an Oscar, is polished on the surface and gives the viewer the capacity to empathize with Bror despite his shortcomings. The production’s handsomeness, the literate sweep from a screenplay by Kurt Luedtke, the detail and well-developed characters. There are few lulls. I was taken into this movie’s cocoon. Morally a bit suspect, but a tremendous film all the same, 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.
Out of Africa (1985) Starring: Meryl Streep, Robert Redford, Klaus Maria Brandauer. Director: Sydney Pollock.