The life of Dian Fossey is unique, beautiful and passionate, just like this film. Under Michael Apted’s direction, Gorillas in the Mist is an exotic biopic that immerses us in Fossey’s world among the gorillas and celebrates her life’s work.
In 1968 we see Dian (Sigourney Weaver) leave her home, family and fiancé to live alone in the war torn jungles of Rwanda, to count the gorilla population. Early in her stay, she is forced to leave by soldiers. Not willing to give up, she sets up another camp outside the border, in the mountains. As her research grows more impressive, she gains attention from the National Geographic, who sends photographer Bob Campbell (Byran Brown) to work with her. Fossey and Campbell have a romantic relationship while up in the mountains, he even says he will leave his wife for her. But this is not a love story, and if it were, Fossey’s true love is the gorillas.
Sigourney Weaver is known for playing tough, tenacious women, and her role as Dian Fossey is no exception. Anyone, man or woman, brave enough to live in a foreign jungle, alone and unable to speak the native language is already a force to be reckoned with. Getting closer to gorillas than anyone ever had and learning to communicate with them is amazing. And when she is fighting off poachers, who think she is a witch, she embraces their fear and uses it against them. Her tactic used to frighten a young poacher enough to talk is one of my favorite moments in the film.
What impressed me most about this film is the fact that most of the scenes involving gorillas were filmed with real live gorillas. A few scenes involve actors in a gorilla suit, but for the most part I don’t think I could tell the difference between the real gorillas and the fake. They all seem very convincing and authentic. And even better is how fearless Weaver is among the gorillas, she seems as at home as Fossey would be.
In 1988 Gorillas in the Mist was nominated for five Academy Awards. They include best adapted screenplay, best sound, best original score, best film editing and best leading actress, for Sigourney Weaver. Unfortunately, Oscar night ended with this film coming home empty handed.
Gorillas in the Mist is an enchanting film that would most appeal to nature lovers and animal activists everywhere. With the film’s focus on Dian’s work, her battles against poachers and struggling within a war torn region, it is fascinating and thrilling. However, with some brutal moments towards the innocent gorillas, young animal lovers should wait until their older for this film.
“If I see or hear or smell you anywhere near my gorillas you’ll be writing with your other hand, and I’ll have an ashtray.”
Gorillas in the Mist is violent and sometimes flawed, but emotional, well acted and an essential animal film.