Making the Grades
Release Date: August 21, 1981
Life in the Kalahari Dessert looks like a National Geographic documentary until a careless pilot in a passing plane drops his empty Coke bottle out the window. Having had no encounters with civilized man, the African Bushmen who find his litter believe the curious object is a gift from the Gods.
Soon covetous feelings start to arise, and the little tribe begins to fear the blessed bottle is really a curse. When it becomes apparent family peace can only be restored if the gift is returned, Xixo (N!xau) volunteers to walk to the end of the earth (no matter how far that may be) and throw the evil thing off.
Miles away, Kate Thompson (Sandra Prinsloo) leaves her hectic-but-futile journalist job in the big city, to become a schoolteacher in a primitive rural community. Already a little nervous about being alone in a strange world, she is about to face her worst nightmare -- not in her new employment, but with the man asked to provide her transportation between the last bus stop and the remote mission where she will be working. Although Andrew Steyn (Marius Weyers) is completely at ease doing zoological research, he has a physiological hang-up about women. Tongue-tied and all thumbs, their introduction goes from awkward to ludicrous with no help from his mechanically challenged vehicle. When a breakdown forces them to campout over night, Kate is convinced the bumbling professor has invented the whole scenario.
In yet another part of the big continent, terrorist Sam Boga (Louw Verwey) is furious when his plans to assassinate some political leaders are bungled. Forced to flee, he and his band of rebels are looking for a group of people they can use as hostages...
Believe it or not, when these three storylines converge, hilarity ensues.
While portrayals of violence arent usually synonymous with humor (or even a good combination), The Gods Must Be Crazy is full of odd mixes that work surprisingly well. The ineptness of the guerrilla gang is not so much stupidity, as common human idiosyncrasies (like the two men so obsessed by card playing that the rebellion has become an annoying disruption to their game).
Another paradox is the technical construction of the film. Choppy edits, under cranked cameras, and even blatant lack of lip synchronization, detract from the witty story, yet this movie contains some of the most natural slap-stick comedy you will ever see. Were Marius Weyers stumblebum antics actually scripted? I myself have done things as stupid as his parking the Land Rover so close to the gate that he cant get it open. And it is hard to remember it was a creative decision to have poor Miss Kate (wearing only her bra and panties) calling for the help of a strange man after she gets stuck in a thorn bush while trying to discreetly change her clothes. Havent you had embarrassing moments like that too?
Parents may also have mixed feelings. It would be completely unrealistic to depict the Bushmen in anything but their traditional attire, but that means you see a lot of bare bums and topless females. A frustrated mechanic and some of the terrorist also utter strong language.
Yet what makes this movie so appealing to me is the way it captures Africas diversity and constant culture clashes. There is a strong sympathy towards the indigenous peoples, which creates some very tender moments, and a quirkiness that makes me laugh. It obviously charmed a few more viewers too, because this almost one-man show (written, produced and directed by Jamie Uys) which began as a foreign limited-release film in 1980, went on to find a long theatrical run and cult following with North American audiences.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about The Gods Must Be Crazy.
How does the narrators cynical wit show the film writers bias feelings about the Bushmen and civilized man? How do you feel about the conveniences and technologies of modern world?
What motivates people like the character Kate Thompson to leave their day-jobs? What kind of rewards are you looking for in life?
The character Andrew Steyn becomes a complete klutz whenever he is around a woman. What things bring out your worst traits? What is your most embarrassing moment?
While breaking U.S. box office records for a foreign film, controversy has often followed this movie, including the depictions of the bushmen. With the death of N!xau in the summer of 2003, the UK publication Guardian Unlimited offers a little additional information in N!xaus obituary.