Jacki Kellum

Juxtapositions: Read My Mind

Happy 81st Birthday, Robert Redford-A Tribute to Out of Africa

Image result for out of africa Today, several stars aligned themselves perfectly. I lead a book and movie club at my local library, and today was the day for Out of Africa. I’ll write more about the book later, but here’s a quick tip: Read the book Out of Africa. You will feel as though you have stepped out into the Serengetti or into the land and life around any of the  Kenya that existed 100 years ago. Out of Africa is a splendid book about a remarkable lady Karen Von Blixen or Isac Dinesen, and I have nothing but good things to say about the book.

I also have a great admiration for Karen Blixen herself, and I hope to write much more about her later, but since it is Robert Redford’s birthday today, I want to say a few things about the movie version of Out of Africa, about Meryl Streep’s brilliant portrayal of Karen Blixen, and about Robert Redford’s depiction of Denys Fench Hatton.

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Out of Africa Movie Quote — “Karen Blixen: 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?”

Allow me to begin by saying that although the movie Out of Africa has the same name as one of Karen Blixen’s books, the movie is only loosely based on that one book. The movie Out of Africa won seven academy awards, and one of those awards was for best screenplay. In my opinion, a great screenplay is a collation of information. Karen Blixen’s book Out of Africa is a memoir. It is a record of the Africa that Blixen knew and loved. The movie Out of Africa is a tribute to Karen Blixen and to the courageous way that she handled the suffering and loss in her life. If Blixen had portrayed herself as gallantly as the movie did, we would think that she was an egotistical narcissist. Although the movie does reflect an understanding of Blixen’s memoir and an empathy with her love of Africa, it is not told in Blixen’s exact words.  The movie is based on biographical accounts of Karen Blixen and on her other books, too. The movie is a loose but well-crafted synthesis of several sources.

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In the movie Out of Africa, Blixen’s love affair with Fench Hatton is of utmost importance. In the book, Blixen’s love life is emphasized far less.

Before I went to book club this morning, I wrote a post about the ways that being alone and being lonely are two separate things. Today’s WordPress prompt has to do with being solitary, and remaining solitary is vital to the Fench Hatton that Redford creates in the movie:

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Karen Blixen: When you go away… you don’t always go on safari, do you? Just want to be away.
Denys: It’s not meant to hurt you.
Karen Blixen: It does.
Denys: I’m with you because I choose to be with you. I don’t want to live someone else’s idea of how to live. Don’t ask me to do that. I don’t want to find out one day that I’m at the end of someone else’s life.

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Karen Blixen: It’s an odd feeling, farewell. There is such envy in it. Men go off to be tested, for courage. And if we’re tested at all, it’s for patience, for doing without, for how well we can endure loneliness.

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In the movie Out of Africa, Meryl Streep brilliantly portrays the courageous, bigger-than-life nature of a lady who essentially took on British Colonial Africa alone–and she did it at a time when ladies weren’t supposed to have the kind of stuff to endure such a test. Even though Karen Blixen lost everything in Africa, Meryl Streep portrays Blixen as having ultiamtely earned the respect and the admiration of the women, men, and native peoples that she eventually left there. In my opinion, Meryl Streep is never grander than she is in Out of Africa, and in similar fashion, I feel that Robert Redford’s greatest performance is in the same movie. I am not sure that Dennis Fench Hatton was the character that Robert Redford portrayed, but Redford’s performance was flawless. In the movie Out of Africa, Dennis Fench Hatton is noble but not perfect.

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Karen Blixen: He even took the gramophone on safari. Three rifles, supplies for a month, and Mozart.

Fench Hatton loved literature, good stories, and music. He was intriguing, but he had difficulty sharing himself:

Berkeley Cole about Fench Hatton: He likes giving gifts… but not at Christmas.

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Although she would have considered Fench Hatton the love of her life, Karen Blixen is portrayed as never having the satisfaction of Fench Hatton’s absolute devotion. Fench Hatton needed freedom. He needed aloneness. He didn’t want to be needed or to be relied upon. At almost the end of the movie, Meryl Streep accepts the fact that she is leaving Africa without the kind of relationship that she had wanted with Fench Hatton, but in the movie, Fench Hatton has to admit that Blixen would be taking more of him than he had wanted:

Denys: You’ve ruined it for me, you know.
Karen Blixen: Ruined what?
Denys: Being alone.

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When it would seem that things could not have gotten worse for Karen Blixen, they did, and Fench Hatton was killed in an airplane accident.

A day before she was to leave the Africa that she loved, Blixen admitted at Fench Hatton’s graveside:

“So take back the soul of Denys Finch-Hatton. He brought us joy, we loved him well. But…he was not ours. He was not mine.”

The Karen Blixen and Denys Fench Hatton of the movie Out of Africa are epic. I cannot imagine that any two actors could have portrayed these two people better than Meryl Streep and Robert Redford did. A movie like Out of Africa is literature, and Redford and Streep are largely responsible for this movie’s success.

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As long as I live, I never shall forget Out of Africa.

Karen Blixen: [Voiceover] I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills.

©Jacki Kellum August 18, 2017





  1. You have made me want to read the book. I saw the movie for the first time this year.

    • jackikellum

      August 18, 2017 at 6:27 pm

      The book is an exceptional piece of nonfiction. It is rated among the top 100 nonfiction books of all time. It was written by a Danish lady in English 100 years ago, and for all of those reasons, it is a bit difficult to get into. It is worth the effort.

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