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Fate and Free Will
FARAH: Msabu's bleeding. She does not have this ox. This lion is hungry. He does not have this ox. This wagon is heavy. It doesn't have this ox. God is happy, msabu. He plays with us.
Here, we get Farah's (and by extension, the Africans') views on how much control we have over our lives: none. It's a calm acceptance that doesn't give in to despair. It's a kind of attitude that makes the situation bearable vs. believing you need to control things and being constantly frustrated.
KAREN: Doesn't it matter to you that I'm another man's wife?
DENYS: What matters to me is that you tried so hard.
It's important to Karen that Denys recognizes her commitment to behaving with honor. She couldn't save her failing marriage with Bror for so many reasons, but she gave it all she had rather than resigning herself to failure. She chose this life, and she totally owns the consequences. A man like Denys has gotta love that.
KAREN: When the gods want to punish you, they answer your prayers.
This comment comes after a long, lonely life at the farm, so we can't blame her for feeling down. When Denys offers to move in, she's conflicted. Who wouldn't be? The last guy she invited home gave her syphilis. Sure, it's what she wanted, but it's also an intrusion to her valued solitude.
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. I'm willing to pay for mine. To be lonely sometimes. To die alone, if I have to. I think that's fair.
KAREN: Not quite. You want me to pay for it as well.
DENYS: No, you have a choice, and you're not willing to do the same for me. I won't be closer to you, and I won't love you more because of a piece of paper.
Denys and his commitment issues strike again—the old "just a piece of paper" line. What's truly interesting is that Karen writes something similar in her memoirs about being uncomfortable with a lot of romantic conventions. In her writing she's the one ready to accept being lonely forever. But the film reverses those roles for dramatic effect.
KAREN: If she's not important, why won't you give it up? I have learned a thing that you haven't. There are some things worth having, but they come at a price, and I want to be one of them. I won't allow it.
DENYS: You have no idea the effect that language has on me.
Karen's putting her foot down on Denys' little trip with Felicity. Apparently, Meryl Streep had a real problem delivering this line. She didn't think the character would say that, while Sydney Pollack needed it to give the conflict between the lovers some oomph.
KAMANTE: I think that you had better get up. I think that God is coming.
This is an actual line that Kamante said to Karen, according to her memoir. Kamante refers to the destructive force of the fire as God approaching. Maybe if you think of your home burning down as a sign from God, then it's easier to accept.
KAREN: All gone.
DELAMERE: How did it start?
KAREN: I think God had a hand in it. He gave me my best crop ever, and then He remembered.
It's almost Shakespearean the way that fate keeps kicking this woman. Karen endures one misery after another until we're wondering why she doesn't just drop down and die. The fire is the final disaster that leaves her bankrupt and forced to leave Africa.
DENYS: You've ruined it for me, you know.
KAREN: Ruined what?
DENYS: Being alone.
KAREN: Have I?
Denys often refers to their romance as a restriction on his freedom. Somehow Karen is responsible for destroying his ability to be the center of the universe. This line is a tease, because he has no intention of committing no matter how much he enjoys her company. Then he dies. The film's attitude towards their relationship is fatalistic: it just wasn't meant to be.
KAREN: I've got this little thing that I've learned to do lately. When it gets so bad, and I think I can't go on, I try to make it worse. I make myself think about our camp on the river, and Berkeley, and the first time that you took me flying. How good it all was. And when I'm certain that I can't stand it, I go one moment more. And then I know I can bear anything. Would you like to help me?
Perhaps this trick seems like masochism, but it's actually pretty pragmatic. Karen's using her losses as a meditation; all this suffering teaches her how incredibly strong she is. It's almost like thinking about the painful times inoculates her against future pain. Since you can't fight your fate, you might as well learn to deal with it.
KAREN: You were right, you know. The farm never did belong to me.
DENYS: I may have been wrong.
The farm seems to have a will of its own sometimes. Early on, Denys tells her that once they leave, nature will take it all back again. But when she's feeling like a total failure, this line is his way of letting her know that she's left an indelible mark on her land. And that fate didn't win every round after all.
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