Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The African Queen (1951)

     Humphrey Bogart rocks. Known as one of the greatest actors of his time, he delivered great performances in “Casablanca”, “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre”, “Key Largo”, and many other movies. And also, Katharine Hepburn rocks. At her time known as “box-office poison” (meaning people stayed away from seeing her movies), she became one of the greatest actresses of her time with films like “The Philadelphia Story”, “Bringing Up Baby”, and in her later years “On Golden Pond”. So what would a movie with both these actors be? Why, a classic, of course. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you “The African Queen”.

     Hepburn plays Rose Sayer, a Methodist missionary from Britain serving in the jungles of Africa with her brother Samuel (Robert Morley). From the beginning of the movie, their efforts seem almost futile—the first time we see them, they’re leading the natives in a hymn while the crowd is either trying to sing along, shouting randomly, or running outside to see the African Queen. The African Queen is a small boat that often travels down the local river, driven by Captain Charlie Allnut (Bogart) who starts bringing the natives to himself and driving them away from the Sayer’s just by throwing his cigarette on the ground. He seems like a nice man to the missionaries, but he comes off as a little coarse, especially to Samuel.

     However, this is during World War One. And one day, German soldiers come in to take natives captive and make them into soldiers. Their villages are destroyed, and the Sayer’s are devastated. Samuel is so much so, that he ends up going crazy and dying just a short time later. Rose is alone until Charlie comes to get her out of the jungle on the African Queen. And soon, Rose comes up with the idea of creating a torpedo with supplies that Charlie has on the boat and using it to blow up a German ship. Charlie, of course, thinks this is impossible. For one thing, he wouldn’t know how to make a torpedo from scratch. For another thing, how could one little torpedo blow up a huge German military ship? But he eventually tells Rose that he will make it, and she holds him to that promise—even through their troubles.

     And believe me, there are troubles. At one point, German soldiers, some of who are African natives, attack the African Queen and shoot a hole into the engine that almost stops their journey. Charlie gets drunk one day from all the liquor he keeps aboard and ends up insulting Rose very harshly, prompting her to pour all the alcohol into the river. This, of course, leads to more tension between the two of them. And one day, they find themselves going down rapids, risking the boat and their lives. But by their teamwork and courage, they end up surviving—and yes, they start falling in love.

     It’s amazing to see the transformation that occurs in the relationship between Charlie and Rose. If last week’s movie “The Apartment” showed the negatives in a relationship between a man and a woman, “The African Queen” shows the positives—and it does it in a very humorous way. They start out disagreeing with each other about everything; from the torpedo to the way Charlie runs the boat to the decision to go down the river in the first place. But they’re around each other for so long that they get used to one another’s presence, and by the time they’ve safely traveled down the rapids, they find themselves in each other’s arm and happy about it.

     That’s what God intends for a loving relationship between a man and a woman. He created Eve because he saw Adam alone in the Garden of Eden and said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” (Genesis 2:18) And his intention was for the two of them to comfort and care for each other and their surroundings. And it should be my intention, as a single young man who wonders all the time whether or not I’m going to get married someday, to make myself pure and holy before God so that I will be able to love my wife well—as well as respect the other women that God puts in my life!

     Last week, I quoted Ephesians 5 where it says not to be sexually immoral. But that chapter goes on to talk about how husbands and wives should love and respect each other: “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. …Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” (5:22, 25) If there’s a special someone in my life (forgive me for putting it in those corny terms), I need to love and respect them as Christ would—but I also need to keep in mind that Christ Himself should be the center of that relationship.

     Now, who knows if Charlie becomes a Methodist later on, because they didn’t put that in the movie. What I do know is that he and Rose make a torpedo but are soon captured by Germans and are about to be hanged. But Charlie has one request for the captain: to marry him and Rose. So the captain leads them in their vowels and then says the best line in the movie: “I now pronounce you man and wife. Proceed with the execution.” Then, ka-boom, the torpedo goes off, the ship crashes, and Charlie and Rose escape, happily married. (In the book this movie was based on, they actually die, but the filmmakers changed their minds. I’ll tell you more about it later.) Anyway, my prayer for you, the reader, is that in your friendships, you will strive to love the people around you as Christ would, and that you would make Him the center of your relationships.

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