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Gorillas in the Mist: The Story of Dian Fossey (1988)

 
 
 

The Gorilla Girl

If I see or hear or smell you anywhere near my gorillas, you'll be writing with your other hand and I'll have a new ashtray - Dian Fossey

Sigourney Weaver in Gorillas in the Mist: The Story of Dian Fossey (1988)

Once in a while a movie comes along which tries to bring issues to the public's attention, "Gorillas in the Mist" at times feels like one of those movies as it highlights the issues of the Gorillas in the Rwandan mountains. At the same time it also acts as a biopic delving into the life of Dian Fossey the woman who rose to fame for her work in the jungles where she lived, dedicating her life to the study and protection of the Gorillas. But there lies an issue, as whilst it achieves the goal of making the public aware of the travesties going on where Gorilla's are butchered so that their hands can be sold as ashtrays, it fails when it comes to being a biopic, leaving us with unanswered questions about Dian Fossey. Despite this "Gorillas in the Mist" is a marvellous movie, capturing her passion for the Gorilla's brilliantly.

For those who have never heard of Dian Fossey and so are unaware of the story behind "Gorillas in the Mist", during the 60s she volunteered to head into the jungles to do a 6 month study of the Gorillas and their population. Except she became so passionate about these primates, often walking amongst them as one of their own, she stayed there dedicating her life to the study and protection of these powerful animals, so much that she turned her back on love to stay there.

Bryan Brown and Sigourney Weaver in Gorillas in the Mist: The Story of Dian Fossey (1988)

Now on one level "Gorillas in the Mist" is an amazing, insightful movie showing us the lives of these Gorillas roaming the mountains, the threat they are under from poachers and also how Dian Fossey ended up befriending them. It highlights the injustice going on, that thanks to the rich men and women who took delight in having a Gorilla hand ashtray the population was on the threat of being made extinct by local poachers. It doesn't pull any punches and a scene featuring a butchered Gorilla is visually shocking, making you think about this senseless cruelty going on. As an attempt to make the public aware of these sorts of things "Gorillas in the Mist" works brilliantly.

What does stand out from this side is not only the beautiful Rwandan mountains full of luscious greenery and heavy hanging mists but also that for most that is Sigourney Weaver sitting there in amongst a colony of real gorillas. There is little camera trickery or men in Gorilla suits, what you see is pretty much what happened. In some ways it's like watching a natural history documentary and it delivers a stunning sense of realism such as when a Gorilla sits next to Weaver.

But then there is the other side of the story the sort of biopic of Dian Fossey and as such it never answers all those questions that it throws up. Yes it's insightful as we watch Fossey's passion for the Gorilla's grow but then you are sort of left wondering who Dian Fossey really was. There's no major introduction, no real reason why she was so desperate to do the study of the Gorillas in the first place and whilst you can sort of understand why she ended up feeling so passionate about them it never explains why she chose to stay rather than leaving with the man she clearly loved. For me it leaves too much floating, too many unanswered questions which sort of detract from an otherwise magnificent movie.

As for the performances this is Sigourney Weaver's movie and she puts in a power house performance from the enthusiastic, slightly naive woman who arrives to be greeted by war to the one who becomes obsessed when it comes to the protection of "her" Gorillas. Not only is it a captivating performance but is also convincing to the point that many people now think of Sigourney Weaver when the name Dian Fossey is mentioned. The fact as a Hollywood star she immersed herself in the role, befriending the gorilla's during shooting shows amazing dedication and "Gorilla's in the Mist" is all the better for it.

Aside from Sigourney Weaver, Bryan Brown is impressive as National Geographic photographer Bob Campbell who after a slightly frosty meeting ends up falling in love with Fossey. Plus in the few scenes she appears in Julie Harris does a decent job as local Roz Carr. But in many ways the best supporting performance comes from John Omirah Miluwi as Fossey's loyal tracker Sembagare and the bond between him and Fossey is made very clear.

What this all boils down to is that "Gorillas in the Mist" is a remarkable movie, visually beautiful yet makes the public both aware of the life works of Dian Fossey and the unjust cruelty from the poachers in the Rwandan mountains. It's just a shame that it never gives us those answers to some of the questions it poses, such as why did Fossey dedicate her life to the study and protection of these Gorillas giving up on normal life and the man she loved.

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