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The gods must be crazy

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I first saw The gods must be crazy back in the 1980s. It’s a South African film and I think I saw it there when visiting friends and then, later, on German television. And I thought the film was really funny at that time when I wasn’t even a teenager. So I was a bit worried now when having the chance to see the film again that it might turn out to be an apartheid flick – a critique that the film seems to have received at the time. Undeservedly, as many say. Which is a opinion that I’ve come to share.

There are three storylines in the film. The main one is about Xi, a Bushman living in the Kalahari. One day, a pilot drops an empty coke bottle out of his window which Xi’s family finds. It proves to be very useful as it is the hardest and smoothest substance they’ve ever seen and as it dropped from the sky, they assume it’s been sent to them by the gods. But as there is only a single bottle which everybody wants to use, soon unhappiness enters the peaceful life of the Bushmen family and eventually Xi decides to take the bottle, walk with it to the end of the world and drop it there.


On his way there he, who has never seen any other people than his fellow Bushmen meets several other, ‘civilised’, people. One of them is Andrew who is collecting manure… of the wildlife for his PhD. To do that he’s staying in the bushveld with a helper and a dodgy jeep. And he has to pick up a lady, Kate, from a place close by for the local priest with his broken car (which may not be turned off as it won’t go on again and which doesn’t have working breaks). She was fed up with her work for a Johannesburg newspaper and wanted to work in a school in Botswana. As Andrew is rather clumsy in dealing with women, there are quite a few embarrassing scenes on their way. After failing to impress Kate, Andrew gets to know Xi who was sentenced to prison for trying to kill a small animal. As Xi has never even lived in a house, prison is the worst thing possible for him. And they find a deal where Xi works for the research.

The third story is that of people trying to kill the goverment of another country, failing, fleeing to Botswana and ending up taking Kate’s whole school as hostages on their march to Mozambique. In the end, Xi manages to sneak into the crowd of the hostages and poison the kidnappers. Finally he gets his salary – which he doesn’t know what to do with and manages to drop the dreaded bottle off the end of the world before returning to his family. Happy End.

And while those stories are a bit long-wound and unnecessarily complicated, they may not even be the main point. It’s the meeting of different backgrounds, people coming from the ‘wild’ into ‘civilisation’, people fleeing from ‘civilisation’ into the wild and several stages in between. The whole concept of ‘civilisation’ just looks very funny in the film. Particularly in the first ten minutes which are absolutely brilliant: The Kalahari, its nature and the Bushmen are introduced just like in a nature documentary. Then there’s a cut to Johannesburg with its motorways and skyscraper(s) and ‘civilisation’ is explained – in a style so close to the Hitchhiker’s Guide style that you wonder whether that was done on purpose – with all its treats: clocks, using a car for the 50 metres to the next post box, sliced bread and children sentenced to ten to fifteen years of school just to know how to survive in this complex and hazardous habitat…

Slicing Bread

So it’s a rather funny film. Intentionally funny. And, strangely, Xi – while being horribly displaced into a rather hostile environment – often looks like the most sane person of everybody around there. But he always remains friendly and smiling. There’s probably much more to say, from the amazing language of the Bushmen (among others) with their ‘click’ sounds in there which are really hard to speak if you are used to European languages, to the fact that N!xau, the actor of Xi, apparently got a pittance for his work but managed to learn enough about money to get a lot of money for the sequel which was published many years later.

According to IMDB there are also parts 3, 4 and 5 of the film. Seeing that they get lower and lower ratings even with the star-generous crowds at IMDB, they must be really really bad.

[Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

June 21, 2005, 11:17

Tagged as bushmen, country:za, film, gods must be crazy.


Comment by beat: User icon

copyed and got an A, haha

October 21, 2005, 6:37

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