A rich, but also bleak, drama

The Color Purple (1985) is based on Alice Walker’s diary-formatted novel, about life for African Americans during the early 1900s in the American South. It is well translated to the screen.

It begins with teenager Celie giving birth to twins, their father is Celie’s father.

When she is older, Celie becomes the housewife of Albert (Danny Glover), who needs her to look after his household chores. Though Albert would sooner have married Celie’s sister Nettie because she is more attractive.

Celie, they say, is ugly, but knows how to work hard, and Nettie isn’t for “sale”.
A hard thing for Celie to take is when Nettie is visiting Celie and she’s thrown out of Albert’s house. The separation of the close bound sisters is raw.

The hard life abounds in The Color Purple. When I looked closely at the first half, it is bleak. Manhood and masculinity are equated with aggression and abuse to show who’s boss, but it leaves the women in their lives hurting and fighting for survival. Inter-generational sins of the fathers come down to visit the sons.

It’s not an easy watch in the first half, but shows people doing the best they can in a difficult world. This is someone’s story. This is real. But what’s inflicted on others is still unacceptable.

The meaning of ‘purple’, an intermediately colour between the colds of blue and the hots of red, sums up the first half. Life can be ‘blue’ or ‘red’, but in between is how one copes, it’s not flash, but somehow one gets through. It’s the ‘colour purple’.

But the second half is transcendent. Here’s the theme of having enough and confronting the abuse. Here’s taking a stand, here’s finding redemption. It’s also about coming to terms with God in their almost hopeless world.

As well, the second half broadens the scope of the film, to how black and white interact. Sofia, played with spunk and fire by Oprah Winfrey, comes out worse for ware, in her interactions with whites, but Sofia is not one that is easily walked over.

The Color Purple is rich in characters, performances, and delivers a redemptive story, but it also has bleak parts.

Whoopi Goldberg as Celie is outstanding in her subtle and nuanced delivery, Danny Glover is, as always, convincing, playing Albert, Celie’s husband by arrangement.

Great support comes in all directions, especially Margaret Avery as a singer who shows Celie affection for the first time and Oprah Winfrey storms her way through her role like a powerhouse.


The Color Purple (1985) **** Starring: Danny Glover, Whoopi Goldberg, Margaret Avery, Oprah Winfrey. Director: Steven Spielberg. Warnings: a profanity, domestic violence, and sexual situations.

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Out of Africa sweeps one up

Thematically, Out of Africa (1985) has got some interesting points, of one’s place and connection in the world in spite of the transient nature of life, seeing the life God intended although the world is imperfect, and the small details of life carrying some significance for good or ill. A bit of a smorgasbord of ideas, a bit of a mix and pick, but the ideas connect to the central story.

Out of Africa is based on real people and fictionalized for dramatic effect, Danish baroness Karen Blixen (Meryl Streep) moves to colonial Kenya and marries her best friend there, Bror (Klaus Maria Brandauer). There is a strain in her marriage as Bror has infidelities coming left, right and centre despite them trying to make a go of a coffee plantation in the African country.

Enter big game hunter Denys Finch Hatton (Robert Redford). Ever so gently a romance develops after Blixen’s divorce from Bror.

The spectrum of events like these can make one question one’s place in the world, question if the events are ominous or good, and somehow get back to the life God intended. Ambiguous and lucid but getting through the fog to find a meaningful life.

Meryl Streep had two acting Oscars already on her mantelpiece before she filmed Out of Africa. When the Oscar nominations came out in 1986, she was nominated for her role as Karen Blixen. She didn’t win and didn’t win again for another 26 years when she got another one for The Iron Lady in 2012. But some may say that the field was so good in 1986 that they all deserved the Oscar.

The beauty of Meryl Streep’s performance as Karen Blixen 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 a movie.

Streep consumes her role as 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, but mostly you wouldn’t notice.

There’s a slow burning romance between the main characters. Finch Hatton takes Karen Blixen on his plane–some magnificent aerial photography showcases the romance of the African landscape. By then it’s more than a date, not that dates figure in this film’s world.

I’m not commending the moral flaws in this film, such as the infidelities, the divorce, and the romance with another man, but Streep’s wonderful performance, and Brandauer’s too, the production’s handsomeness, the literate sweep from a screenplay by Kurt Luedtke (based on the writings of Karen Blixen), the detail and well-developed characters, are all on the flip side. There are few lulls. I was taken into this movie’s cocoon. A tremendous effort, 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) ****½ Starring: Meryl Streep, Robert Redford, Klaus Maria Brandauer. Director: Sydney Pollock.