Here’s what the main trouble with movies about Africa is in my case: it is almost never fully fiction. From time to time, I feel the need to just watch a movie and enjoy it for what it is. With the exception of District 9 that is still on my “to do list” there are hardly any movies about Africa that I know of which I can simply watch without thinking about the social, political or economic implications of such movies. I must confess that this might entirely be my problem. But it surely is something that I come across every time I watch a movie with an Africa-related content. Which is also why I always alternate African and South American movies. That being said, let’s get to the movie I’m reviewing here. Sadly enough, it follows the patters I’ve gotten used to when it comes to movies about Africa.
Gorillas in the Mist
This movie is about the life and work of Dian Fossey, a famous anthropologist, naturalist, writer and scientist who embarked on a mission to observe and protect gorillas in Rwanda in the early 1970s. While spending many years on a cold, wet mountain she became an activist who fought against poachers and protested against the government for not doing enough to protect the gorillas that she was studying in the wild. Bottom line: she got murdered in 1985 and no one ever found out who the killer was. That is the story that the play writers started with. Gorillas in the Mist is a movie that takes us through the various stages in Mrs Fossey’s professional career and personal life that culminated with the moment in which she was killed. Sigourney Weaver is the actress who plays the role of Dian Fossey and she does to the point of perfection. In fact, it is really hard to imagine another actress that would have done a better job as Dian Fossey though I did try to imagine how Rachel Weisz would have looked like in this movie. Then I realized she was 17 at the time the movie was shot so she couldn’t have been casted the role.
Before I explain why I detested having lost two hours of my life watching this movie, I would like to say what I liked about it. Despite the fact that to me Gorillas in the Mist was a huge disappointment, I have to give it credit for its technological advancements. Given the fact that it was released in 1988 this movie is a real accomplishment from a special effects point of view. When Mrs. Fossey makes physical contact with the gorillas it is impossible to distinguish between the real gorillas and the actors disguised as animals. The sense of place and suspended time is refreshing and highly emotional. The brutal scenes in which her favorite gorilla is being killed are painful and perhaps uncalled for but they fit in the narrative. Her death, both tragic and untimely, leaves the audience stunned and craving for justice. But the movie also has some moments of brilliant screenplay writing. As the character reaches Rwanda she is well-determined not to ever leave her cologne or tooth paste aside. She is also bossy, arrogant and treats everyone with a profound disrespect which might make some viewers uncomfortable as her behavior borders racist actions. That is how her journey really begins and over the spam of two hours we witness her gradual transformation which is going to restore her humanity. These creative decisions, the special effects and some of the parts of the script promise for the great movie.
Despite the fact that we are gradually introduced to the main character at the end of the day we are left with a bitter taste. The script and the movie itself tell us nothing about who this person really was. I had to do some research to see who I, as a viewer, am dealing with. And since I had no previous knowledge of the character, her eccentricism towards the end of the movie was unacceptable. When poachers and the representatives of the central government jump at her throat, she becomes this hysterical, irrational and unreasonable figure, the stereotype of a person who thinks she can control everything while losing the grasp of reality. And then I asked myself what makes her become such a person and why should I care about this? The script makes it look like the murder of the favorite gorilla was the straw that broke the camels’ back but there has to be a more nuanced version of the truth. But the screenplay is either too superficial or the writers cannot easily cope with her seemingly irrational behavior that the final product is profoundly disappointing.
There’s also a question of why did she go to Africa in the first place. If we are to follow the story suggested by the script narrative it was because Mrs. Fossey attended a lecture by famous anthropologist Louis Leakey which had a profound effect on her decision to go to Africa. That is one shallow take on the subject and, as it turns out, Mrs. Fossey had been to Africa prior to her encounter with Professor Leakey.
I claim that the movie had a wrong start and wrong direction. We start by not really knowing who we’re dealing with, we then perhaps become a little bit fond of this courageous woman who risks her life in the name of science but then she become this estranged character who is slowly making us lose our patience. And then she is killed.
The script also throws in a little romantic story that is consumed between Mrs. Fossey and a photographer working at the National Geographic.
Overall, the only two things that save the movie from being a complete failure are Mrs. Weaver’s superb acting and the touching moments in which she interacts with gorillas in the wild. But in all fairness, if you take the beautiful scenes with gorillas out of the movie, all you are left is an incoherent story laced with pathetic incidents which ultimately add to a tasteless movie. Which makes it yet another soap opera that some of us have had the bad luck of coming across.
I rate this movie 4/10