„Out of Africa” – the Story of the Writer’s Birth

Out of Africa


Title: “Out of Africa”

Release Date: 1985

Director: Sydney Pollack

Cast: Meryl Streep, Robert Redford, Klaus Maria Brandauer, Michael Kitchen, Malick Bowens, Suzanna Hamilton


Sydney Pollack’s seven Oscar-winning film “Out of Africa” has gone down in history as the melodrama of all time. Nevertheles, the film adaptation of Karen Blixen’s autobiographical prose, made with panache, is not only a great cinematic romance, but also a story about a woman’s maturation into independence and finding her own path in life. And all of this is set in the stunning open air of the Black Continent – a space of wild nature from which the heroine learns to listen to her inner voice freed from the pressure of cultural stereotypes.

Karen Blixen and her love affair with Africa

Karen Blixen is a Danish writer whose prose was made famous by the 1937 film adaptation of her memoir book, “Out of Africa”. Baroness Blixen spent more than a decade in Kenya, where she and her husband ran a coffee plantation at the foot of the Ngong Mountains. Due to the collapse of the market, however, her farm collapsed, and the Danish woman had to return to Europe and took up writing.

The film’s plot begins when Karen Blixen (played by Meryl Streep) is already an old woman and writes down her memoirs, beginning with a sentence repeated several times: “I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills” This almost magical formula transports the protagonist to the past, and before the viewer’s eyes are magnificent African landscapes and a shot of the train on which the main character arrives in Kenya in 1913. A Danish episode from the writer’s life also appears briefly, explaining the circumstances of her marriage. Well, Karen, out of reason, marries a friend (and also the brother of her unfaithful lover), with whom she intends to leave Europe and start a new life away from unpleasant memories.

Out of Africa novel Karen Blixen

From the outset, Baron Blixen (Klaus Maria Brandauer) does not portend well for either spouse or estate manager. The man unreflectively spends his wealthy wife’s money, indulging mainly in multi-week hunting trips. Left to her own devices, Karen experiences frustration and rejection, but nevertheless tries to arrange her life with her husband, adjusting to his lifestyle. When war breaks out and echoes of the fighting reach Africa, the heroine, disregarding the danger, makes her way through the wilderness to provide Brora’s army unit with the food and medicine it needs.

Soon, however, Karen learns that her husband has infected her with syphilis. To have a chance of survival, she returns to Denmark, where she undergoes a devastating arsenic treatment. After the treatment, which deprives her of the chance of her longed-for motherhood, Karen arrives in Africa again. She demands that her husband move out and decides to take care of the farm on her own with the help of a Kikujus tribe living nearby. At the same time, she begins to spend more time with an English aristocrat, Denys Finch-Hutton (Robert Redford). Soon they strike up a passionate love affair. However, although they are both in love, the man does not want any formal ties, which leads to a breakup.

After a promising coffee harvest, a fire breaks out on the plantation. Karen loses everything, so she has to sell the farm. When Denys learns of his lover’s situation, he offers her his help, but the Danish woman decides to return to the country. The man intends to accompany her on her way, but the day before the scheduled departure, his plane crashes into the rocks. After Denys’ funeral, Karen leaves for Europe.

Out of Africa movie review

“Out of Africa” and the two faces of love

“Out of Africa” is clearly divided into two parts, which are marked by the history of two erotic relationships of the main character. The first is a marital relationship with a baron, while the second is a passionate affair with an English adventurer. Karen experiences completely contradictory love experiences. Based on reason, the relationship with Barr does not have any signs of romance, but the seriousness of the institution, tradition and the overriding procreative function are behind it. Thus, marriage gives the heroine the opportunity to fulfill a social role, the task of which is, as it were, to integrate Karen into the community and gain its acceptance. Therefore, the critical point for marriage turns out to be infertility as a result of venereal disease. The squandering of the chance for motherhood, perhaps more than the husband’s infidelity itself, causes the woman to judge the façade relationship as completely worthless and to dismiss her spouse.

In contrast, the affair with the wildly intriguing Denys represents, in the film “Out of Africa”, the eruption of Karen’s deepest desires. It is a thoroughly erotic love, and at the same time romantic. Its sensual character is foreshadowed by the scene in which the characters go on safari together and Denys helps Karen on the toilet, washing her hair. The overflowing water is a sexual symbol referring to the emerging passion between the couple. Other erotic symbols that often accompany the portrayal of this relationship are fire, wild animals, fertile stretches of savannah and flight in the skies.

It is significant that most of them are ambivalent in nature; on the one hand they provide unusual and powerful elation, on the other hand they pose danger and even risk death. The characters constantly seem to be even balancing on the border between life and death (as, for example, in the scene when they are attacked by lions or when they fly a plane that Denys learned to pilot only the day before). This physical danger accompanying the couple reflects the heat of affection, but also the socially unacceptable nature of their relationship. This aspect is particularly strongly felt by Karen, who insists on formalizing the relationship and thus placing it within some safe and socially legible framework.

Out of Africa film analysis


“Out of Africa” – the beginning of Karen Blixen’s remarkable metamorphosis

Perhaps most telling in “Out of Africa”, however, turns out to be Karen’s spectacular transformation under the influence of various experiences with men. And what is most interesting is that the direction of this metamorphosis does not lead, as in a traditional melodrama, to the breakdown of the heroine, but, on the contrary, to finding her own path, independent of men. The Karen we see at the beginning of the story and the one we observe in the film’s finale are almost two different women. When we get to know the heroine, she manifests extremely nervous gestures and behavior. She desperately flits between the desire to subdue her unfaithful husband and submissiveness to him. All of the poses she adopts are a kind of strategy to please the man. She undertakes every activity with him in mind, up to the almost insane decision to tear through the African expanse in the middle of a war. The turning point in Karen’s story is a crippling illness. It is she who makes the heroine, as it were, take a completely different course.

The momentousness of this decision is underscored by the scene in which Karen returns to Africa after an illness and announces to her husband that she will not have children and that she has been thinking about their future. The woman then sits in front of a mirror (a symbol of self-discovery), and her gaze falls on a compass lying on the dressing table given to her by Denys. This prop foreshadows the role the other man will play in Karen’s life, but also, as a navigational device, it signifies taking the right direction on the road. Therefore, we are dealing here with the process of maturation of the heroine, and an important stage of this process is the journey on safari. Indeed, one may be tempted to interpret this wild African space also in a metaphorical aspect. Love opens Karen to the deep layers of her own inner self, to understand and name her desires. Thanks to affection, there is also a confrontation of the woman with her greatest fears, a telling sign of which is her shooting a lion.

“Out of Africa” – a new model of femininity and postcolonialism

The metamorphosis of the heroine of “Out of Africa” is highlighted by a significant change in her physicality. When we meet Karen, she is shrouded from head to toe in an embarrassing outfit. Buttoned up to the neck, the woman walks through the hot African countryside in heavy boots. Nevertheless, as Karen bonds with Denys, her outfits become more casual, reflecting the woman’s gradual abandonment of tight social conventions, as well as getting more in touch with her own desires (it’s worth noting in passing that Sydney Pollack’s popular film launched the fashion for safari outfits). In the finale, we see Karen already in a new facial hairstyle and in airy summer dresses that accentuate her feminine curves.

Out of Africa 1985

Paradoxically, already after breaking up with her beloved, the heroine achieves, so to speak, the fullness of her femininity, clearly contrasting with her almost masculine image from the beginning of the film. The effect of Karen’s inner maturation is thus the acceptance and affirmation of her own femininity regardless of the male point of view.

Interestingly, self-acceptance dovetails with the evolution of Blixen’s attitude toward the African land and its people. Thanks in large part to Denys, the heroine rejects the colonial perspective of vision and sees in the local tribes their own subjectivity. A sign of the final affirmation of the Other is the scene when Karen asks the servant to remove the highly symbolic white gloves she personally put on his hands upon arriving in Kenya. Another extremely telling clue to the evolution from an attitude of racial superiority to post-colonial reflection is the moment just before she leaves Africa, when the woman urges a loyal black employee to address her not in the form of “Msabu” but to say her name “Karen.”

“Out of Africa” – a nostalgic tale of loss

Therefore, “Out of Africa” is a story about an initiation journey to the Black Continent, which at the same time becomes a great inner journey. Karen goes from being a frisky person, bound by the bonds of social expectations, to becoming a woman aware of her own limits, exuding calmness and maturity. The heroine is able to give up great love because she knows what she wants and does not hesitate to make demands on her beloved man. When she expects Denys to make himself clear, her attitude no longer resembles that of a submissive wife. Furthermore, Karen exposes her lover’s irresponsibility, which hides under the guise of his supposedly priceless independence. She finds that she has learned a lot, and the most important of these acquired wisdoms is that the most valuable things cannot be had for free, they must be paid for. But Denys doesn’t want to pay, and she, unlike most heroines of melodramas, can live with it.

Out of Africa movie vs book summary

Here we come to another aspect that completes the portrait of the heroine. Namely, “Out of Africa” appears as a nostalgic story of loss. Karen loses almost everything in the Black Continent: her youth, the opportunity to be a mother, love, and eventually also money and the farm to which she devoted ten years of hard work. And when it seems that the woman has every reason to commit suicide, we see the opposite. It is then that the process of Karen’s inner transformation is completed. Before leaving, she manages to win decent living conditions for the Kikujus tribe, and her steadfast and courageous attitude inspires widespread admiration. Extremely significant in this context is the scene that takes place just before Blixen’s return to Europe; moreover, it forms the compositional buckle of the film. The men, who at first scornfully throw Karen out of an exclusive establishment intended only for gentlemen, at the end themselves invite the heroine to have a drink with them, recognizing her as an equal.

“Out of Africa” – the birth of a writer

At its deepest level, “Out of Africa” is a story about discovering the meaning of life and one’s own talents. It is therefore a story about the birth of a woman writer. Karen’s path to unleashing her creative potential is long and winding, but we know that these abilities have been in her from the beginning. At a dinner party to which she invites Denys and his friend, she reveals an unparalleled talent for spinning stories. The next day, the man presents her with an expensive gift – a golden pen – so that one day she will write down her stories. This symbolic gift foreshadowing Blixen’s future profession harmonizes with other signs heralding the heroine’s further fate.

These include the aforementioned compass marking the direction of the road, as well as the airplane flight she shared with Denys. This is because Karen recalls this air travel as an initiation into a divine perspective of viewing the world. This statement not only implies a certain point of view of viewing reality from above, and thus from a divine distance, but also refers to a popular metaphor for literary creativity. Namely, the writer enters the position of God, since, like Him, he brings new worlds to life, and what’s more, he does so by means of the word, and thus the mythical Logos. Therefore is born the writer Karen Blixen, who many years later would write: “I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills”.